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NBA heads to Israel to develop talent, promote cultural awareness

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JERUSALEM (AP) The NBA is heading to the Holy Land this week, bringing together some of the top emerging talent from across Europe as part of the league’s push to attract more foreign players and expand its global reach.

An NBA delegation, led by Commissioner Adam Silver, is in Israel as part of “Basketball Without Borders,” a program that hosts training camps for top teenage players throughout the world. The visit comes at a time when Silver is seeking ways to make improvements to a league that, while enjoying a surge in popularity, has seen its product impacted by the dominance of a handful of teams and a recent trend of healthy superstars skipping games to rest.

In an interview, Silver said the program aims to give players who have a legitimate chance of reaching the professional ranks a cultural and athletic experience that would be hard to match.

“It’s a realization that in order to develop as an elite player at a relatively young age, you need to begin competing against other elite players. And also you need the benefit of top notch coaching,” he said.

Some 60 of the top Under-17 players across Europe will participate- including 40 boys and 20 girls. They will get a chance to train under current and former NBA players and coaches, including Israel’s Omri Casspi, a new member of the champion Golden State Warriors, and Hall of Famer David Robinson, as well as leading figures from European basketball.

Off the court, the program also promotes cultural awareness.

“Whatever region we’re in, we educate the young folks about what’s happening socially, politically, economically in the area they are in,” Silver said. “It’s life skills in addition to basketball. It’s about the values of the game, like leadership and discipline and hard work and respect for each other.”

Toward that goal, the program will sponsor a series of clinics and workshops for local youngsters that will include Israeli Jews as well as members of the Muslim, Christian and Druze minorities. Palestinian children from the West Bank will also be participating, Silver said. On Sunday, for instance, the program will dedicate a new “learn and play” center at Jerusalem’s YMCA.

“We look for regions where we can have a bigger impact than just the game of basketball,” Silver said. Earlier this month, the program held a similar camp in South Africa.

“What we’d like to see is using basketball to build bridges between cultures,” he said. “I think it really is true that people, whether on a basketball court, or it’s on a soccer pitch, when they compete together they see how much they really do have in common. In this case, it’s a shared passion for basketball.”

Basketball Without Borders, a partnership with FIBA, the world’s governing basketball authority, has held camps in 26 countries since it was launched in 2001. This is the first time Israel, which is part of FIBA’s Europe region, has hosted the program. Forty-six former campers, including Casspi, have been drafted by NBA teams.

“I was a BWB camper in 2005 in Italy. To be a part of BWB now in my home country more than a decade later and to have the opportunity to work closely with these talented youth at the camp and conduct events in the community, is truly an amazing experience,” Casspi said. “I think the kids will have a fantastic time here while pursuing their dreams at BWB the next couple of days.”

The program is part of a push that has turned the NBA into a global sports powerhouse, second only to soccer.

The league says its games are now broadcast in 215 countries and territories, and Silver said basketball has made “enormous inroads” in China and is now gaining momentum around Africa and in India.

The league now holds pre-season games in China, regular season games in London and Mexico and broadcasts afternoon games on weekends to make them easier to watch in overseas time zones. The NBA also is in the process of launching soccer-style “academies” around the world to develop promising teenage talent year round.

Developing foreign talent makes good business sense. But it also has been good for the game. Some 25 percent of the NBA’s players are now foreign born, and international superstars such as Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Yao Ming have helped transform the sport in recent years.

Silver said that deepening the talent pool is the best response to complaints that the sport is dominated by a handful of powerhouse teams led by superstar players, leaving most teams without a chance of winning.

“It’s a nature of this sport. If you have certain players, you’re highly likely to be better than other teams,” he said. The best response, he said, is to develop more great players rather than place “artificial ceilings on how good a team can be.”

Silver said the off-season will also focus on some other league issues, including the problem of “healthy rest.”

He said the league will be starting a week earlier to allow for more off days during the season, will be reducing the number of back-to-back games and has eliminated the grueling practice of teams playing four games in five days.

Next month, owners also are expected to approve a new set of guidelines aimed at reducing healthy rest, he said.

“We’re trying to find the right balance,” he said. “We recognize that a certain amount of rest is necessary. … But we want to make sure that we sort of draw some clear guidelines for our teams when it is appropriate to rest players.”

Chris Paul shimmied on Stephen Curry, and Curry is okay with that

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In Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Stephen Curry was feeling it and broke out the shimmy after draining a step-back three over James Harden.

In Game 5 Thursday night, Chris Paul hit a ridiculous three over Curry and returned the shimmy favor.

How did Stephen Curry feel about that? As your mom used to say, if you’re going to dish it out you had better be able to take it.

First, can we just admit neither Curry nor CP3 can shimmy like Antoine Walker?

The question for Paul and Curry is which one will be shimmying after Game 6 (especially considering CP3’s hamstring issue)?

Rockets have sucked Warriors into their style of game, then been better at it

Associated Press
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Through an 82-game regular season, the Golden State Warriors averaged 322.7 passes a game β€” the ball flew around the court with energy, found the open man and he buried the shot. For the season, 63.1 percent of the Warriors’ buckets were assisted. It was egalitarian. It was modern NBA basketball. It was “the beautiful game.”

The Houston Rockets, on the other hand, averaged 253.3 passes per game, fewest in the NBA. What they did lead the league in was isolation sets β€” 14.5 percent of their offense was the old-school style that the Warriors shunned. It worked for the Rockets, they scored an impressive 112 points per 100 possessions on those plays, but it looked more like a 1990s slog than a Mike D’Antoni offense.

In Game 5, the Warriors had 257 passes and 56 percent of their buckets were assisted (the first time that number got over 50 percent in a couple of games). In turn, isolations were the third most common kind of play the Warriors ran in the game (which was better than they did in Game 4, but still not who they normally are). Add in post-ups, which are essentially isolations just down on the block, and you get 25.7 percent of the Warriors plays in Game 5 being one-on-one.

The Warriors have been sucked into the Rockets’ game, and Houston is better at it.

The Rockets are up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals and in the last two games have been the better clutch team. The better fourth quarter team. The team imposing their style on the game when it matters. For years the versatility of the Warriors allowed them to win regardless of the style of play β€” slow it down and be physical, play fast and up-tempo, whatever teams tried to do β€” but not against these Rockets. Not in this throwback, isolation-heavy style.

If the Warriors can’t change that dynamic nothing else will matter, and they will be watching the Finals on television for the first time in four years.

For the Rockets, imposing their will and style starts with their defense. Since the first game of the season β€” which was against these Warriors back in October β€” the Rockets have switched everything on defense. It was assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik’s plan, his counter to the ball movement of Golden State and the many teams trying to emulate their style. Everybody in the NBA is switching more on defense, but nobody was doing it as much or with the gusto of the Rockets. For example, Utah switched a lot against Houston in the last playoff round, but with Rudy Gobert at center they tried to switch less with the big men, wisely preferring to keep Gobert back as a rim protector. That opened opportunities for the Rockets to attack.

Houston switched everything. All the time. Even when logic dictated they shouldn’t. Big man Clint Capela has the athleticism and instincts to guard on the perimeter, so they let him. Other teams try to tag out quickly from the mismatches switching can create (scram switches behind the play are trendy now), but the Rockets tend to live with the switch and just send help. What the Rockets became doing this all season is smooth and proficient with switching, and it has shown in this series.

Kevin Durant is supposed to be the counter to this β€” he is the Warriors best one-on-one player, and switch or no there is no good matchup to defend him. So the Warriors lean on him in these situations, they get him the rock a lot.

Durant had 10 isolations and six post-ups in Game 5 β€” 16 of his 29 plays were mano-a-mano contests. KD can excel at them, but as the Warriors start to slow it down and hunt out those mismatches they move the ball less, and they play into Rockets’ hands. They have slid into Houston’s style. Part of this was missing Andre Iguodala, both a good defender and a guy who keeps the ball moving on offense. Without him decisions change β€” there was a fourth-quarter play where Stephen Curry drove past his man, got into floater range, the Rockets brought help off the man from the corner, but now that is Kevon Looney, and Curry looked then decided to take the floater rather than make that pass to a non-shooter. Curry’s shot hit the back of the rim and bounced out.

The Rockets have slowed the game down, muddied it up, and they are comfortable playing this way. The Rockets have thrived in this style despite the fact James Harden has struggled (Chris Paul has had a couple of big fourth quarters). The Warriors can beat 28 other teams four times in seven games playing this style, too, because they have the talent. Just not Houston. The Rockets have plenty of talent too, their bench guy Eric Gordon is knocking down seemingly every shot he takes, and this series is being played on their terms.

Houston is just better at this style.

Golden State is not dead in this series β€” they go home for Game 6 and are expected to get Iguodala back. More importantly, the health of Chris Paul and his hamstring are up in the air.

But the Warriors need to get back to being themselves β€” playing faster, sharing the ball (despite pressure), and using that to get the open threes or driving dunks they use to bury teams. It will not be easy β€” the Warriors played their game for stretches in Game 4 at home, but like a cheesy horror movie villain, these Rockets refuse to die. They are relentless, and they’re aggressive with their switching. The Rockets are incredibly good, and they know who they are. They have been themselves this series (just with more missed threes).

If the Warriors don’t get back to being themselves, if they keep trying to beat the Rockets at Houston’s game, they will be on vacation in Cabo before June for the first time in years.

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

AP
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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

As expected, Chris Paul said he will be good to go (players are the worst at providing a timeline for their injuries).

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

AP
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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.