‘They’re still beating everybody’: Spurs off to 4-0 start

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MIAMI (AP) — Gregg Popovich is in a great mood, seeming to enjoy every aspect of the conversation. There was talk about wine, his favorite beverage and probably his favorite topic.

There was talk about players who came through the San Antonio system. There was talk about past NBA Finals matchups and some coaches he admires.

Then the chat turned to the Spurs. And the effusive answers from the venerable San Antonio coach were no more.

“We’re doing what we’ve always done, I guess,” Popovich shrugged.

True, but that’s what makes the Spurs worth talking about. Off to the NBA’s best start at 4-0 – and matching the best start in franchise history, one they could top at Orlando on Friday – the Spurs are generally ignoring this era’s preferred method of go-go-go, pace-and-space, shoot-the-3 basketball and relying instead on post-ups and defense.

It’s working, even as the Spurs wait for Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker – their best player and their point guard – to make their season debuts.

“It’s remarkable what they do and how they reinvent themselves every year,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The faces change, but their standards and excellence remain the same. So now they’re doing it retro, doing it totally old-school, the way everybody said you can’t do it.

“They’re doing it by building a top-caliber defense, not playing with incredible pace, not playing with the 3-point line right now … and they’re still beating everybody.”

San Antonio’s latest victim: Spoelstra and the Heat, winning 117-100 in Miami on Wednesday night. The Spurs were plus-12 in rebounds, plus-14 in bench scoring, shot 10 for 17 from 3-point range while holding Miami to a 9-for-26 night from beyond the arc. In a 9-minute span of the second half, the Spurs used a 32-13 run that decided everything.

Popovich dismissed the Spurs’ effort as mediocre, especially on defense. But all Miami could do afterward was tip its cap.

“They just know how to play,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “They have that consistency. They have that system that is really good. You can see every cut, every pass, it’s crisp. Sooner or later, you’re going to get hit by a screen and they’ll take advantage of that.”

Even without Leonard and Parker, it’s all working.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who often didn’t seem to fit with the Spurs during his first two seasons, is averaging 26 points and is off to the best four-game start of his career. Rudy Gay, a Spurs newcomer and a backup for the first time since he was a rookie, is averaging 14.8 points on 58 percent shooting. The Spurs are allowing an average of 93 points per game – 12 teams entering Thursday have given up more than that in every game they’ve played this season.

It seems like a very basic style.

And it’s proven to be very effective.

“That’s what I know,” Popovich said. “That’s what I’m teaching. It suits our team and our personnel, so why not?”

Popovich treats the nuances of the Spurs’ system as if they are state secrets. The basic principles are easy and obvious, though. He tells a player simply to play to his strength. Case in point: Dejounte Murray, who’s filling Parker’s role while the veteran recovers from a leg injury, is the only guard in the NBA right now with more than 100 minutes as a starter and less than three 3-point attempts.

Murray has taken two, and missed both. He’s not a shooter yet.

“His focus right now is defense and rebounding,” Popovich said. “Eventually he will learn about pick-and-rolls and when his shot gets better, he will be real dangerous.”

This is what makes the Spurs dangerous: No one is asked to venture out of their comfort zone, and Popovich figures out the rest.

“You’ve got to adapt to your personnel,” Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili said. “If you have LaMarcus Aldridge, you’re going to post up more than other teams. Defensively, we’re trying to be who we always be and always were. I’m pretty sure that’s what other teams like to try to be. No secret there. We just try to be the same old defensive team and adapt to whoever we have offensively.”

The Spurs have won 60 percent of their games in each of the last 20 seasons – a streak eight years longer than any other team in NBA history, and four years longer than any other team ever in the four major North American sports leagues. Popovich is going to pass Phil Jackson, George Karl and possibly Pat Riley on the NBA’s all-time wins list this season.

Golden State is the NBA’s best team and LeBron James its best player, but San Antonio is still the league’s standard.

“You just have to credit Pop, their program and the players that they like in their program and their adaptability to be able to sustain their excellence,” Spoelstra said.

 

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.