NBA lands in Africa trying to put down roots, which is all about youth programs, infrastructure

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Under David Stern and now Adam Silver, the NBA has tried to grow its brand across the globe and establish itself as the world’s premier basketball league. That has meant games and outreach to Europe, China, South America, India and the Philippines.

Now the NBA has landed in Africa for the first-ever NBA game on that continent — a Team Africa vs. Team World exhibition featuring some of the biggest names in the league Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chris Paul, Luol Deng, and Marc Gasol will be there, as will be native Nigerians and NBA players Al-Farouq Aminu and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Twenty NBA players in all are taking part, along with coaches Gregg Popovich of the Spurs and Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks.

“It’s incredible to see all these guys here,” said Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on a conference call Thursday.

“It’s an honor to be part of this,” said Bismack Biyombo, the new Raptors center and native of the Congo, on the same call. “Growing up here in Africa you watch an NBA game every now and then, or when someone had one recorded.”

Much of the talk about growing the sport in Africa has seemed to focus on the NBA brand — bringing an NBA preseason or maybe even regular season game to the continent. That’s a long ways away — Saturday’s exhibition will be in a 4,000-seat arena — but it’s a possibility.

“We’ve definitely had discussions, but they are elementary in some ways…” Ujiri said. “(The Raptors) would definitely be a team that would be very, very interested.”

The real test, however, is not bringing another NBA game to Africa, but finding ways to grow the sport at a grassroots level in Africa.

“The reason you see African nations (doing well internationally) in soccer — or football — now is that we played at a young age,” Ujiri noted. “You just had a ball and two rocks to be the goals, as I used to play growing up.”

Growing youth basketball will mean building infrastructure — in the USA we just expect to see even pocket parks in cities with a basketball hoop. They are ubiquitous, as are youth hoops programs. All of that is lacking in Africa, where soccer but not basketball is part of the culture.

“One thing to come out of this will be more camps, more clinics, more games, more youth competition, and from that you get into infrastructure, and building more courts,” Ujiri said, adding that what the NBA needs to help do is “coach the coaches” who will help teach the game.

“We’ve worked with kids the past few years here, and I worked with kids in the Congo the last few weeks, and the potential is here,” Biyombo said. “The problem we all have is we started playing basketball late. That’s why we’ve been trying to build courts around the country.”

The game Saturday is just one step in that direction, but exposing the youth of Africa to the highest levels of the game is a start. Now comes the hard part of building that youth infrastructure.

The words that kept coming up in everyone’s press conferences was the potential of the market and the youth in Africa.

“There is talent there,” Ujiri said of Africa. “It’s how this motivates them and the opportunities it creates for them.”

“I want (African youth) to use basketball as a way to gain an education because all of them are not going to make it to the NBA,” Biyombo said. “I want to show them they can reach their dream with a lot of hard work.”

“Africa is a continent with huge potential and many different levels,” said Pau Gasol, who also will take part in the game and spoke with the media Thursday. “It has a lot of struggles, but it’s worth investing the time and the effort and the energy to give this country and this continent a chance, and I think a lot of players are coming out and obviously have come out already, but there’s potential that a lot more younger players can come out and be ready and become great basketball players and have an opportunity to have a great life for themselves and their families.”

Watch Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica’s game-winning deep three to beat Rockets

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After a rough start to the season, the Kings may be finding their footing. First, Sacramento went into Dallas and picked up a win on Sunday.

Monday, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Kings took down the Rockets in Houston.

Buddy Hield had tied the game with a leaning three-pointer with eight seconds left. Houston called a timeout, then Mike D’Antoni made a smart call having the Rockets bring the ball up the length of the court. Russell Westbrook brought the ball up, the Kings sold out to keep the ball out of James’ Harden’s hands, and that left a lane for Westbrook to blow by Heild and get all the way to the rim for a layup. Houston was up 118-116 with one second left on the clock, and Westbrook was yelling “game over.”

Nemanja Bjelica had another idea.

Smart play design by Luke Walton. It forced P.J. Tucker to make a decision, he helped on Bogdan Bogdanovic‘s flare screen then had to decide between dropping back to help protect against a Harrison Barnes rim run — what he did — or come out with Bjelica. The design left Bjelica with a clean look at a three.

The back-to-back wins improve the Kings to 10-13, just a game out of the playoffs in the West. And this week they will get Marvin Bagley III back.

Things may be turning for the Kings.

Patrick Ewing on Knicks firing David Fizdale: “Very disappointed in that”

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Knicks legend Patrick Ewing currently is waist deep… well, at his height maybe knee deep, in the college basketball season. His Georgetown team is off to a solid 6-3 start with a game at Syracuse coming up this Saturday.

He still has time for his SiriusXM radio show, “Center Court with Patrick Ewing,” where he said he was “very disappointed” to see David Fizdale let go.

“Very disappointed in that. I think that Fiz is an outstanding coach. I’ve had an opportunity to get to know him over the years, met him when he was working for the Hawks. And just want to let him know that I support him and I know he’s looking forward to his next opportunity, but he is a very good coach and I was disappointed to see him getting let go.”

Coaches back the other coaches, it’s a fraternity that way. Rick Carlise is the master of it.

Fizdale is not blameless for the current state of the Knicks, his rotations and ability to develop young players certainly are in question, but he wasn’t the root of the problem. The best analogy I can come up with is Fizdale was the first contestant sent home on “Chopped”: Nobody was going to make a delicious meal out of the horribly mismatched ingredients in that basket, but the chef still has to do something cohesive with it. Fizdale did not.

The question becomes, is team president Steve Mills — the long-time Knicks employee who has known how to survive in James Dolan’s world — going to finally be let go and a big name brought in, or are the Knicks just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Pacers fans still boo Paul George, he responds with 34 through three quarters (VIDEO)

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Don’t make Paul George angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (if you’re the opposing team).

It was a couple of seasons ago, but the wounds of Paul George forcing his way out of Indiana are still fresh for Pacers fans, so they booed him when he handed the ball at points during the Clippers visit to Indiana.

George’s response? Go get buckets and tell the crowd to “shhh.”

Like 21 points in the first half buckets.

And 34 points after three quarters, with seven from beyond the arc.

The Clippers — without Kawhi Leonard on the back-to-back — were up double digits in the fourth quarter in Indiana. George will be your player of the game for L.A.

Kevin Love on latest rumors Cleveland will trade him: ‘Nothing’s changed’

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Kevin Love has heard it all before.

Rumors floated around Cleveland was going to trade Love in the summer of 2015 after his first season with the team. They sprung up again the next season at the trade deadline — before Love played a central role in Cleveland winning a ring. The rumors kept springing up, especially after LeBron James left. Then this past summer, Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stay in Cleveland.

That has not stopped the rumors.

Love was asked about the rumors and sounded unmoved by them but a little frustrated, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“Nothing’s changed,” Love told ESPN after Cleveland’s morning shootaround at TD Garden. “What I mean by that is, since I got here they’ve been … since I f—ing got here, there’s been talk of me being traded, so it’s nothing different. If they decide to go that way, I’ve just got to know it’s part of the business, or if we decide to go that way, it’s part of the business.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how it’s going to play out, because I see both sides.”

This time it feels like Love could get moved, if not at the trade deadline then this summer — and he wants to go to a contender.

The logic is simple: Cleveland is rebuilding, Love is still a stretch four and good rebounder who can help a playoff team. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game. Boston, Denver, Portland and a host of other teams could use him this season.

The challenge is that massive contract, which is why a trade may be put off until next summer.

Whatever happens, Love isn’t going to stress over it.