Photo courtesy Shock Doctor mouthguards

Kevin Love ready to be No. 1 option again

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Chris Bosh warned him, but the extent of it was still a surprise at times — Kevin Love had been an All-Star playing one way, but he was going to have to evolve his game and his mindset to play next to LeBron James in Cleveland.

Love went from being the star at the center of the solar system in Minnesota to becoming one of the planets orbiting LeBron in Cleveland — one of the biggest, brightest planets, but it was a shockingly different role at times. Love eventually was all-in — not all-out — embraced the change and it got him a ring, which is what he wanted most.

This summer, LeBron went Hollywood

The Cavaliers quickly pivoted and, not wanting to rebuild, signed Love to a $120 million extension and made him the face of the franchise. Love is a No. 1 option again.

This time, though, things are going to be different for Love.

Yes, he again will be asked to score more, but he said that biggest thing that is different now is he doesn’t care about his numbers as much as finding ways to get the Cavaliers the win. Also, the game has evolved since he left Minnesota so he must as well.

“Just shooting the ball from the perimeter,” Love told NBC Sports about what will be different from when he was the No. 1 option in Minnesota. “That’s where the game has gone and there are stretch fours and stretch fives now. It’s such a luxury for a big man to be able to step out on the perimeter, it stretches defenses and it helps with the pacing of how you run your offense.”

How he gets his shots will be different, too. Last season 23.4 percent of his shots were spot-up jumpers where another player (usually LeBron) created the opportunity. Now it’s Love who has to create those shots for others and, in the preseason, most of his used possessions have come out of the post or in isolations.

That means the game is going to be a lot more physical for Love — and it already was plenty physical at times, like when Love lost a tooth late last season.

“I got hit in the face last year which led to losing a front tooth, and I had to get a root canal, but had I not been wearing that Shock Doctor mouthguard I would have lost my four front teeth,” Love said, speaking on behalf of Shock Doctor mouthguards. Love took an elbow to the face against the Heat and, while it wasn’t pretty (and he ended up in the league’s concussion protocol), he praised the mouthguard from saving him a lot more pain (and root canals) and a lot more time off the court recovering.

In a pace-and-space league, Love said being physical will be crucial to the Cavaliers making the playoffs this season.

“We’ve got to be (a physical team),” Love told NBC Sports. “We’ve got to be in great shape, I think that’s going to be an advantage for us. I think all of our guys being able to bring the ball up, that’s an advantage for us. We’re going to be able to switch at a number of positions and be very physical, that’s a way we need to play and we have that luxury. And also it’s a pace-and-space league and we’re going to have to be able to knock down shots, that’s the way the game has evolved, and the only way we’re going to do that is if we’re in shape and pushing the ball.”

From the moment Love signed that extension, the question around the league (and NBA Twitter) was “how long until the Cavs trade him and go all in on a rebuild?” Or, alternately, when will he get Blake Griffined?

That may be farther off than some fans realize — this summer started a two-year, $185 million renovation project of the Quicken Loans Arena, and it’s a bad look for the team to get the city and other entities to pitch in money for it then start tanking immediately — but the rumors are not going to stop. Love expects as much.

“From what I’ve gone through the last four years, my name has always come up in trade rumors and constantly come up in talks, whether it has been at the deadline, or throughout the summer, so I just let the chips fall where they may,” Love said. “The general manager, Koby Altman, and the owner Dan Gilbert know that I want to be here, but at the end of the day it’s a business.”

For Love, his summer has been focused on his new role. That means a mental adjustment, but as he turns 30 it also means a different focus on his training and body.

“Some running mechanics and just some biomechanics in general, just the movement of my body,” Love said. “Being 30 years old now It’s something I had to focus on.”

He also gets to focus on winning from the position of being the No. 1 option again. And that’s a place he is comfortable.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

Associated Press
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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.