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Rockets sound divided on offensive solutions

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The Rockets’ biggest problem was defense in their Game 1 loss to the Warriors.

But Houston’s offense wasn’t performing at peak levels, either.

Running an isolation-heavy attack, James Harden scored 41 points (9-of-15 on 2-pointers, 5-of-9 on 3-pointers, 8-of-10 on free throws). But the Rockets scored just 102.7 points per 100 possessions.

What should they do about that? Depends whom you ask.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

Q. You’re not worried at all about the iso ball wearing him down both ways?
MIKE D’ANTONI: I don’t think so. I mean, that was the best thing we had. I don’t know why it’s bad. Perception is not reality. Reality are numbers. Numbers are, that’s good. Numbers are, yeah, we had a couple 24-second violations and everybody goes, oh, and everybody goes crazy and our guys do sometimes. We can’t do that. We can’t do that. Yeah, it’s going to happen. We’re not going to be perfect. But the numbers show it’s pretty good.
Now, having said that, we’ve got to get into transition. We’ve got to get Trevor [Ariza] and those guys shots. We’ve got to get the ball moved up a little bit quicker, and we can do that. We control that.

Q. Are there things you can shore up offensively that will help you defensively?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Yeah. Well, one thing we can shore up is be sure to keep all the noise out. We talked about that. There are just too many, and rightfully so, I’m not complaining — but we play the way we play. When we’ve played that way, we’re pretty good. Again, we get a little upset on offense, as we did on defense, because we weren’t as good on offense. So we have to be able to understand where we have to do this a little bit longer, a little bit better, and up the ante a little bit.
Our pace has got to be up a little bit. There are things that we can do and we will do. That’s why I just expect us to be a lot better on Wednesday.
Q. What noise are you talking about?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Just everybody. I mean, just from ourselves. Like, oh, my gosh the iso, that’s all we do. No, it isn’t. That’s what we do best. We scored like 60 percent of the time on that. Oh, really? Oh, they don’t pass, everybody’s standing. Really? Have you watched us for 82 games? That’s what we do. We are who we are, and we’re pretty good at it. We can’t get off who we are. Embrace it. Just be better of who we are and don’t worry if somebody else solves the puzzle a different way. Fine, that’s how they solve it. We solve our puzzle this way. We’ve got to play at our strengths. We know our strengths and we’ve just got to do it better.

Q. There were questions afterward for James about kind of the comfort level of some of the guys on the offensive end. There were people asking questions about Eric Gordon and other players. Do you agree there were times that they looked a little uncomfortable? What you have to do to get the rest, not James and Chris, going and feeling good about what you’re doing offensively?
MIKE D’ANTONI: Like I said, this is how we play. It’s how we played all year. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be comfortable. Wee got some shots up there. I don’t know how many layups we just missed and they turned them into fast breaks. You just take that away, make the layups and defend a little bit better. We’ve just got to get in transition and we’ve got to defend better. A lot of things — up the ante.
But like I said, how are we going to get comfortable? We can put some blankets out there or something, but that’s not happening. You know what? Play through it. So be it. This just comes down to a dogfight. It doesn’t come down to feeling comfortable. Everybody’s feeling uncomfortable. Your hair should be on fire, and you should be playing and spitting blood out there.
This is hard stuff to overcome, one of the better teams ever in the history of the NBA. They’ve got to embrace the situation.

Eric Gordon, via Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

“I definitely would like to get the ball more for me to be aggressive and get good looks,” said Gordon, who took 13 shots. “Offensively with everybody, we really don’t get real good looks. … We can’t isolate as much against a good defensive team. I don’t care who you are. We have some of the best isolation players out there. But against a team like that, it’s going to be too tough.”

Clint Capela, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“We’re just out here waiting on (Harden and Chris Paul) to make the decisions,” Capela said. “This is what they do. This is what they’ve been doing all season long, so it’s something that is harder to do right now. Maybe we’re going to have to be more aware on the weak side, maybe (use) flares to get guys open, to get more movement, so all the focus won’t be on the guys on the weak side.”

In Game 1, the Rockets played the offensive style they used all season. They can’t simply overhaul their identity in two days.

That there’s even talk of them doing so speaks to the Warriors’ hegemony. Golden State instills panic in its opponents.

The Rockets shouldn’t panic, but they should make tweaks.

Attack in isolation quicker, so if the initial plan stalls, they can get into another action with more time before the shot clock expires. Use Chris Paul more in isolation with an eye toward Harden saving energy for defense. Play Clint Capela more than 30 minutes, because his lob-finishing ability limits the Warriors’ ability to rotate a rim protector toward the Houston isolationist.

That might not be enough. The Warriors are great.

But the Rockets’ best bet is sticking with what got them here and hoping to execute better.

Pistons PG Reggie Jackson says ankle injury still keeping him off court

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If Reggie Jackson didn’t injure his ankle, maybe Stan Van Gundy is still running the Pistons.

Detroit went 27-18 when Jackson played and 12-25 otherwise last season. The Pistons missed the playoffs by four games then fired Van Gundy.

Ed Stefanski takes over running the front office, and Dwane Casey is now coach. But they won’t necessarily get a healthy Jackson, either – even though Jackson played the final 12 games of the season.

Jackson, via Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“Probably didn’t heal the way everybody thought it might once we had time off,” Jackson said. “Just haven’t been able to get on the court, but been doing everything I can to get healthy.”

“It actually feels good. I feel like I can cut again,” he said. “Once I get going fully, just see how it feels. But it feels night and day compared to last year. … I think anybody who watched, I never looked right. I never ran right. But that’s what you do. Everybody has nicks and bruises in this game. I wouldn’t change it any other way. I would still come back and play. It was just unfortunate that it wasn’t healed.”

“I’m going day to day,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know. I’m going to come in and do what they tell me, what they allow me to do. I think the organization, our coaching staff and the training staff have a great game plan on when I’ll be back and how to implement myself back into the workouts.”

Jackson not playing would be problematic for the Pistons, who look like a fringe playoff team. Ish Smith would be OK as a fill-in starting point guard, but moving Jose Calderon into the regular rotation could be dicey.

Calderon, who turns 37 next week, is fine in spurts. But I wouldn’t want to overly rely on him at this point. And, though Smith can hold his own as a starter, he looks much better as a reserve.

Even if Jackson gets healthy enough to play by the regular season, that wouldn’t solve everything. His endurance has been a problem at times, and limited offseason training could make that even more of an issue.

Report: Karl-Anthony Towns told Timberwolves he couldn’t coexist with Jimmy Butler

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Karl Anthony-Towns denied Jimmy Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend caused a rift between the Timberwolves teammates.

But that doesn’t mean the rift is nonexistent.

Towns reportedly won’t sign his rookie-scale extension until Minnesota handles the Butler situation, and the standoff apparently isn’t at all over haggling about contract terms, particularly what would happen if Towns qualifies next season for the super-max.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

They’re offering him as much money as they can.

I’m led to believe that a big reason why he hasn’t signed it is that he – through his agent, Leon Rose – went to the Wolves and said, “Hey, I can’t coexist with Jimmy. Do something about it.” So, Figure out the Jimmy situation. On top of that – whether it’s right or wrong, this is the way he feels – that it’s been Jimmy and Thibs ganging up on him.

Towns can sometimes play passively, especially defensively. Two people who tend not to tolerate passive play, especially defensively, are Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau. I’m not sure they’re ganging up on Towns as much as they’re each conveying similar messages individually.

That said, I can also see why Towns would feel like they’re ganging up on him.

Ideally, Thibodeau would have taken Towns’ message and worked with Butler to find a way to better communicate with the center. Towns is an elite young talent, and it’s worth making him happy.

But Butler’s trade request opens the door for another solution. Minnesota can just excise the problem, though it’d probably mean a talent downgrade.

The biggest issue is the Timberwolves didn’t heed Towns’ warning and find common ground for everyone. That seems to reflect poorly on Thibodeau as a connecter, a necessary skill for successful head coaches and team presidents.

Magic Johnson already excited by LeBron’s offseason impact on Lakers

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Magic Johnson can already see LeBron James‘ impact on the young Los Angeles Lakers before they’ve even had a regular practice together.

After just a few weeks of unusually competitive offseason scrimmages, the Lakers’ basketball boss can’t wait to see how James’ leadership will translate into real success.

Magic and general manager Rob Pelinka on Thursday pronounced themselves thrilled with the offseason progress made by their revamped roster and James, their prize free-agent acquisition. The Lakers have been working out together informally at the club’s training complex ahead of the start of training camp Tuesday, and Johnson likes what he sees so far.

“Just to see all of them together playing a pickup game, oh my goodness,” Johnson said. “It’s something to watch. I’ve watched LeBron from afar. I’ve been at many of his games. But to watch him in the gym is a whole different thing. How much he makes everybody better, but also how he raises everybody’s level of play. His basketball IQ and his leadership ability, it’s all on display.”

Lonzo Ball won’t be on display in every workout at the start of camp, however. The Lakers’ second-year point guard had knee surgery two months ago, and Pelinka said Ball will be held out of five-on-five scrimmages when camp begins, even though he has been fully cleared for all basketball activities.

Johnson and Pelinka praised Ball’s offseason work to improve his awkward jump shot by adjusting his shooting mechanics. They also realize Ball has plenty of work to do.

The Lakers are determined to allow Ball to grow into his role as a playmaking leader, and Johnson believes Rajon Rondo will play a mentoring role. Along with James, the Lakers also acquired Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley to form a new veteran core for a 16-time NBA champion franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013.

The Lakers’ disparate collection of talent will need plenty of time to gel, but Johnson is already seeing it happen in those scrimmages.

“I mean, they are going hard,” Johnson said. “It’s physical. It’s tough. There’s trash talking. It’s just a lot of fun, and also a lot of teaching at the same time. It’s really great to see these young guys getting a chance to learn from champions.”

And as if he needed any reminder, Johnson has witnessed the singular skills of the 33-year-old James, who agreed to a four-year, $154 million free-agent deal.

“LeBron comes in, and he’s already in midseason form and shooting fadeaways and 3-pointers from almost half-court,” Johnson said with a broad grin. “And you’re sitting there saying, `Man, thank God we signed him.”‘

Along with blending their new additions, the Lakers must adjust to the loss of Julius Randle and Brook Lopez. Johnson and Pelinka aren’t worried about filling the space left by the departures of those two big men, believing they’ve got more than enough height to guard anyone.

“We feel we have two players at every position – a starter and then a backup to that person,” Johnson said.

Added Pelinka: “A lot of people have said this is one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, and that is an extreme strength to us.”

 

Knicks will not offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension to preserve cap space

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Inking Kristaps Porzingis to a max five-year, $158 million extension to his rookie contract seems like a no-brainer for the Knicks. Porzingis is more than the best player on the Knicks, he is where the fans have placed their faith. Yes, he’s coming off an ACL tear that will keep him out for at least part of this coming season, but he is the Knicks’ cornerstone to their rebuild. The man should get paid.

And he will the Knicks say… just not this summer.

Team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry said at a press conference they talked with Porzingis about paying him as a restricted free agent next summer to preserve cap space to land more talent to play alongside him. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks hope to re-sign Porzingis when he is a restricted free agent in 2019. That way, the team could climb over the salary cap. An extension now would take up precious cap room. Doing it next summer would open up $10 million in cap space.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to stay connected with [the Porzingis camp],” Perry said. “It’s a long-term thing. Obviously, you mentioned the point of the cap space in July. But we just feel like we’re in a real good space with him, as well as he is with us. And we’re going to do the right thing by him and this organization.”

“He’ll never feel like he’s not a cornerstone part of what we’re trying to do here,” Mills said. “He understands that. We make that crystal clear to him and his representation.”

The Knicks are going big game hunting next summer and Kyrie Irving is reportedly at the top of their target list. Jimmy Butler also could be an option (the Knicks are on his short trade list, but the team made it clear they are not giving up assets to get a player they can land in free agency).

What the Knicks are doing with Porzingis has been done before by teams, most notably the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard (and that move is not part of the ill-will between the sides that led to the trade to Toronto). It can work — if the player fully understands this is simply a cap/flexibility move and is not offended by the “snub.” The question is how does Porzingis and his camp feel about it? We will find out down the line.

Either way, the Knicks will be able to keep Porzingis, they can offer the same extension next summer, and can match any offer another team might make to poach the star big man. However, to get to that point Porzingis would have had to sign that offer sheet from another team, a sign of discord between the sides. The Knicks cannot let it get to that. They cannot allow bad blood build up. New coach David Fizdale flew to Latvia this summer to talk to Porzingis and get him on board with the plan. The energy seems good between them, the Knicks can’t let money get in the way of that.

At the press conference, the Knicks’ brass also refused to put a timetable on Porzingis’ return from the ACL surgery last February. He is expected to miss much of the season, not returning until around Christmas at the earliest and maybe closer to the All-Star break in February. Or later. The Knicks are not going to pressure him.