Sleeper teams for each conference in 2017-18 NBA season

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Eastern Conference

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets finished a disappointing 36-46 last season, but they were never as far off as it appeared. Despite that dismal record, they still outscored opponents, and point difference tends to better predict future success than record.

Charlotte’s big problem last year was center depth. The team went 3-17 without Cody Zeller.

The Hornets corrected – maybe overcorrected – that by trading for Dwight Howard. Howard will start over Zeller for now, and there’s certainly value in having both players provide depth. But Zeller has proven to be the effective fit in the starting lineup. If Howard’s ego allows a move to the bench, Charlotte is definitely better off with that option in its back pocket. If not, this could get tricky for Steve Clifford.

I’m not sure whether Nicolas Batum‘s injury makes the Hornets more or less of a sleeper. They’re obviously worse without him, but a couple-month absence isn’t nearly enough to write them off. The setback might help them fly further under the radar.

Batum’s injury will put more pressure on Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to cobble together effective point-guard minutes offensively and defensively when Kemba Walker sits. That was another, smaller, sore spot last year.

Still, Charlotte is well-coached with a fairly cohesive rotation full of players who’ve developed chemistry together. The Hornets are a highly likely a playoff team, not the borderline outfit many have treated them as. After all, they play in the East.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz

The Jazz will feel the loss of their second-best player.

That’s right. Second.

Rudy Gobert was Utah’s best player even before Gordon Hayward left for the Celtics. Gobert is appropriately touted defensively, the best traditional rim protector in the game right now. But he’s quietly an offensive force – a screener, rebounder and finisher.

The Jazz will miss Hayward, to be sure. But much of that is long-term. The 27-year-old will remain in his prime for multiple years and would’ve pushed Utah’s ceiling much higher.

This season, the Jazz rebounded with enough veterans – Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh – to fortify a deep rotation. The newcomers and returning players like Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson just know how to contribute to winning.

Regression to the mean would make Utah healthier than last season. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors can take steps forward, though Favors is a tough fit with Gobert. First-round Donovan Mitchell looks like a steal.

For too many, last year was the baseline, and Hayward is simply being subtracted. Make no mistake, his offensive creativity will be missed. But this team should take steps forward in other facets and remain elite defensively behind Gobert.

The middle of the Western Conference is tough, and the Jazz are by no means a playoff lock. But they have the talent and savvy to at least hold their own in that very competitive environment – even without Hayward.

“Ray Allen from long distance” with chip shot to save par at American Century Classic

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“Ray Allen from long distance, how many times have we said that?”

Ray Allen had a good weekend at the American Century Championships, the former NBA sharpshooter and future Hall of Famer finished third in the celebrity golf event. One of the reasons he was there, this chip shot on 13 Sunday.

Former Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo won the event, with former MLB pitcher Mark Mulder was second.

LeBron James sits courtside for Lakers’ Summer League win

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There are two, maybe three guys playing for the Lakers in Summer League likely to be sharing a locker room with LeBron James next season — Isaac Bonga and Josh Hart, with maybe Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and/or Alex Caruso. Only Hart could see the court much.

LeBron was still courtside on Sunday for a quarterfinal game at Summer League, showing his support and being a good teammate. He gave Hart a hug on the court. Brandon Ingram stopped by and talked with LeBron for a bit.

LeBron watched the Lakers continue their strong run through the Summer League, racking up a 101-78 win. LeBron was into it, when Mykhailiuk took a shot midway through the first quarter LeBron yelled, ‘cash only!”  The shot was nothing but net.

The Lakers are on to the Summer League semifinals. Los Angeles won the Vegas Summer League last year.

 

After losing to his father in golf, Stephen Curry leaps into Lake Tahoe

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Golf fanatic Stephen Curry was clearly enjoying himself on the links at the American Century Championship celebrity golf event in Lake Tahoe this past weekend.

But he couldn’t beat his father, Dell.

The price? Curry (and his caddy) had to jump in the lake. Check out the video above.

For the record, Tony Romo won the event.

 

Spurs’ pick Chimezie Metu to miss time with fractured wrist

Associated Press
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Chimezie Metu showed some promise in the Summer League games he played for San Antonio, scoring 12.5 points a game on 55 percent shooting in Las Vegas, and 10.7 per game on 54 percent shooting in Salt Lake City. The second round pick of the Spurs (No. 49 overall) is raw and needs a lot of development, but he can get buckets. The potential is there.

That development is going to be on hold a while, as what was thought to be a sprained wrist has turned out to be a fracture.

From Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

After an examination Saturday, the Spurs medical staff downgraded second-round pick Chimezie Metu’s left wrist injury from a sprain to a fracture, a league source said Saturday.

Metu was injured late in the Spurs’ 95-90 win over Washington on July 8 at the Las Vegas Summer League, when he landed awkwardly after leaping to catch a lob pass at the rim. The 6-foot-10 big man finished the game but was sidelined for the remainder of the schedule.

After undergoing X-rays at the Thomas & Mack Center, Metu was diagnosed with a sprain. But Spurs’ team doctors suspected a possible fracture, which was confirmed after Metu returned to San Antonio on Saturday.

Metu should be good to go by training camp. Metu is hoping his summer and training camp play will earn him a roster spot, although the Spurs tend not to sign second-round picks the year they were drafted (they tend to let them spend a year or two in the G-League or in Europe). A lot of his chances on making the roster depend on any other moves the Spurs make this summer and what their roster looks like come the fall.