Expectations low, but Nets no longer worry about winning now

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NEW YORK (AP) Jeremy Lin will be urged to become a better leader. Brook Lopez will be challenged to rebound and defend better.

Kenny Atkinson believes in being direct and honest with his players, but there’s one thing the new Brooklyn Nets coach won’t discuss with them.

After all, the players already know some people don’t think very much of them.

“I think those guys are aware of it, so as a coach I don’t think I need to be putting stuff up in the locker room and motivating them that way,” Atkinson said Tuesday.

Expectations are low for the Nets, who open training camp next Tuesday. While they could be better than last season’s 21-61 record, they also could be the worst team in the Eastern Conference, now that the Philadelphia 76ers will be interested in trying to win.

Odds makers, media members and even some of their own fans don’t expect much from the Nets, and some players already have made clear they won’t be as bad as critics say.

“I don’t think we look at is as bulletin board material,” general manager Sean Marks said. “I mean, you’ve read probably a couple of pieces that some of our guys have said that they don’t agree with those odds and that’s great. That’s exactly what we want … that’s the competitor in them.”

Marks, a former assistant general manager with San Antonio, begins his first full season after he was hired last February. He hired Atkinson from Atlanta, where he helped the Hawks reach the second round of the playoffs as an assistant to Mike Budenholzer.

They made a number of additions over the summer, but not the splashy types the Nets favored during their first few years in Brooklyn, when they were trying to win new fans while also winning games. That led to trades for players such as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson, and they reached the postseason in their first three seasons after moving from New Jersey.

But the mindset has changed now, with the bold predictions of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov giving way to tempered talk from Marks, a New Zealand native. Prokhorov wanted to win fast – time expired on his goal of winning a championship within five years of buying the team – but now is backing a plan to build slowly.

“Well, it depends on what your definition of slow is,” Marks said. “Our owners know exactly what the expectations are, so they’re 100 percent on board. They’ve been on board all summer long.”

Lopez is the team’s best player and the Nets hope Lin, back in the city where he was briefly a star with the Knicks in 2012, can build on a strong season as the backup to Kemba Walker in Charlotte. Atkinson was an assistant under Mike D’Antoni in New York during the Linsanity days and believes Lin is ready to handle the responsibilities of running this team.

“It’s a heck of a challenge for him, but I think he’s prepared for it,” Atkinson said. “I think it’s the right time in his career.”

The Nets were encouraged by the play this summer of guard Bojan Bogdanovic, who was Croatia’s leading scorer as it qualified for the Olympics, then surprisingly reached the quarterfinals. And they have high hopes for youngsters such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Sean Kilpatrick and rookie Caris LeVert, even though none of them have played a full NBA season yet.

That’s why Marks said success for the Nets won’t be measured only in wins and losses, but by how those players improve during the season.

“This is not going to be something that’s going to turn around in two, three months,” he said. “As we’ve said before, we want something that’s done strategically and systematically that builds a strong foundation and not something that’s a fleeting moment.”

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Blazers fan gets ejected from game in spectacular fashion (VIDEO)

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The Portland Trail Blazers are down to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, 3-0. It’s not been a pretty matchup thus far, with the Warriors looking like their old selves without Kevin Durant.

The Blazers have struggled, and although Damian Lillard reportedly has separated ribs, their problems have been deeper than that. Portland came out looking particularly flat in the third quarter on offense through no pressure of Golden State. It was embarrassing, and lackluster.

The Blazers lost again on Saturday, 110-99, and emotions are running high in Rip City after the team made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

Perhaps that’s what led to this Blazers fan getting a ejected during Saturday’s game?

Via Twitter:

In videos posted to social media, Trail Blazers security at Moda Center can be seen pushing a rather large gentleman out of the lower bowl behind the stanchion as he yells at Golden State fans. The man decided to finish his drink before it being pushed up the steps to the concourse, much to the delight of the fans around him.

We are supposed to admonish behavior it like this, although we don’t know what led to him being ejected by Blazers security. At one point the announcers on ESPN did say that there was a fan who had thrown something on the floor, and perhaps this is related. We haven’t been able to confirm whether these two incidents are related, but in watching the video it’s clear what the mood is in Portland.

If the Blazers are going to go down playing… well, however it is they have been playing — they certainly don’t look like the Portland team from the regular season — no doubt some folks are going to decide to get rowdy and have a few refreshments.

Game 4 is at Moda on Monday at 6 p.m. and I doubt this guy will be in attendance.

Report: Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon named GM of Pelicans

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The New Orleans Pelicans continue to rebuild their broken front office. Now that David Griffin has taken his place as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Pelicans are reportedly adding another name to their executive staff.

According to Shams Charania, Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon will join Griffin in the New Orleans front office as the team’s new general manager.

Langdon started his front office career as a scout with the San Antonio Spurs, and was named assistant general manager of the Nets in 2016.

Via Twitter:

Brooklyn is a team that has done more with less as of late, and has acted as efficiently as they can particularly as they’ve tried to recover from the moves of a former GM. The Nets moved Billy King Out of the GM job in 2016 in favor for Sean Marks. The Pelicans fired Dell Demps in February.

It looks like the Pelicans are going to do all they can to get Anthony Davis to stay, and that includes a new front office team, upgrades to their practice facility, and a better health and training staff.

Langdon could be just a piece in the puzzle, but he could also be part of the group that has to figure out the best trade package for Davis if the day comes. Either way, New Orleans is regrouping as they move forward with the number one overall pick where they will presumably take Zion Williamson.

Bucks lead East finals 2-0, and now series shifts to Toronto

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals.

Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts.

The supporting cast hasn’t supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green‘s expense.

“We’ve got to be better, man,” Nurse said Saturday. “We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to hustle more and we’ve got to work harder.”

He may as well have punctuated that by adding “or else.”

In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that’s the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish.

“We can’t rest,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We can’t relax. We can’t assume anything.”

So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn’t care.

“I don’t really give a crap about that,” he said. “I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.”

Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 – which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto’s chances.

It hasn’t worked that way.

Add up everyone else’s scoring in the series, and it’s Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well.

“We’re just trying to be us,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “We’re not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We’re just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.”

The Raptors don’t have to look at the history books to know this series isn’t over.

All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home – then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.

“We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,” Gasol said. “That’s all that matters right now. That’s all that matters.”

 

Andre Iguodala sits fourth quarter with “lower leg soreness,” to get MRI Sunday

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DaMarcus Cousins. Kevin Durant.

Now you might be able to add Andre Iguodala to the list of injured Warriors. He only played 18 minutes in Game 3 Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. Asked about that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr listed a hockey injury — lower leg soreness — and said an MRI was coming.

If he has to miss time, that would be another blow to the Warriors. Up 3-0 on Portland, Golden State can close this series out without him, but the Warriors are going to need Iguodala and Durant — and, ideally, Cousins — against the Bucks or Raptors in the NBA Finals starting on May 30.

Iguodala made friends and influenced people when he went back to the locker room late in the first quarter, deciding to flip off the hallway camera on his way.

We will see if the League has anything to say about that or lets it slide.