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After summer moves, Jazz not worried about offensive stumbles to start season

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LOS ANGELES — The Jazz found their rhythm Saturday night: The ball flew around the court, back-door cuts led to dunks, two-thirds of their shots were uncontested (via NBA.com), and even struggling Mike Conley hit 5-of-11, including two threes.

Does that mean Utah’s offense is on track after a couple of rough games to start the season? Or, does it mean Utah can still carve up a not-very-good defense Sacramento that relies heavily on rotations (that the Kings were slow to make), but will still struggle against tougher teams?

Answers to those questions are coming against better teams, Monday night against the fast-starting Suns, then especially on Wednesday when the Clippers roll into Salt Lake City.

Either way, the Jazz aren’t really worried.

After a summer of moves — in particular, adding Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic to bolster their shooting and playmaking — they believe the offense will come around.

“We’ve got to not think the game too much, just go out there and play,” Jeff Green said. “We’ve got some high IQ guys just need to let them play.”

“Our defense is way ahead of our offense, we just got to figure it out on the offensive end…” Donovan Mitchell said after a recent loss to the Lakers. “I think a lot of times we just got to go out and shoot. I think a lot of times we just kind of passed up shots, kinda hesitant, not knowing where to be, and it just takes being more together.”

As expected, Utah’s defense is the best in the league through three games, allowing less than a point per possession in scoring.

Utah’s offense, on the other hand, was clunky the first couple of games of the season, particularly against the long and aggressive Lakers. The Jazz scored exactly a point per possession in their first game against the Thunder, then less than that against the Lakers (90 offensive rating). That jumped to a 115 offensive rating on Saturday night against a struggling Sacramento team (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which eliminates garbage time).

Sometimes a team needs a slump-buster game like that to get on track. The question now is, can they keep it going?

Green was right about those first two games, Utah players seemed to be thinking the game not playing it. That led to guys being hesitant — a word that came up a lot in conversations with the Jazz — or just missing shots. Conley was just 4-of-29 through his first two games in a Jazz uniform.

“It’s like being in quicksand, you try harder and harder and you keep digging yourself into that hole,” Conley said of his shooting slump at the time. “But I can’t shy away from good looks, I’m getting good opportunities and I’m just not making them. That’s frustrating for me.”

Mostly, however, the Jazz thought this was an issue of familiarity.

“Eight new guys, that’s a lot of guys,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his team.

“When you’re not entirely comfortable you can be more indecisive, but I think we can do better than we did [against Lakers] without being familiar,” Snyder added. “We have to be committed to playing together.”

“You’re still learning guys tendencies, where they like to get [the ball], where they like to move. But I think we’re getting good looks,” Joe Ingles said after the Lakers’ loss.

Against Sacramento, those looks fell.

With their elite defense, the Jazz don’t need a top-five offense to win, it just has to be good. Last season, Utah was middle of the pack on offense (14th in the league with a 110.3 offensive rating, meaning points scored per 100 possessions). Much of that offense came out of Snyder’s system, which looked to maximize player off-ball movement, setting screens away from the ball, and then finding those players when they pop open. However, in the playoffs the better defenses take away those plays and it becomes about playmakers and shot creators. Utah had Donovan Mitchell and then… Donovan Mitchell. It was him against the world and the world was destined to win.

This season, in comes Conley — one of the better pick-and-roll point guards in the league, now paired with one of the best roll men in the league in Rudy Gobert. Bogdanovic was a secondary shot creator in Indiana who had to take on a lot more after Victor Oladipo went down, and he impressed. Combine them with an improved and attacking Mitchell and…

They stumbled out of the gate.

However, after a strong preseason and training camp, nobody with Utah was worried. The path past it was more work and getting more familiar with one another.

“It’s trying to get as many reps as we can together,” Conley said. “Even outside of games, in shootarounds and practices, and really taking that upon ourselves to get together and work on different things. Work on pick-and-rolls, work on passing in certain situations, because we got a team full of new guys, a handful that were here before, so we’re all still learning. The quicker we learn each other, the quicker we’ll be able to get into a good rhythm.”

They found that rhythm against Sacramento. Now the Jazz just have to keep the beat going.

Report: Kawhi Leonard didn’t travel with Clippers to Disney World, expected to arrive in few days

Kawhi Leonard in Orlando
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A Clippers-Lakers Western Conference finals – featuring Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James – is one of the most anticipated potential attractions of the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

But Leonard must get there first.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard did not travel with the team on Wednesday to Walt Disney World for the resumption of the NBA season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Leonard was given permission by the organization to tend to a family matter and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to join the team on campus in a few days, sources said.

Hopefully, everything is alright with Leonard and his family and he arrives as smoothly as this report indicates. The NBA has protocols for players who travel to Orlando after their teams. Leonard isn’t unique in having a personal issue delay his arrival.

But this situation bears especially close watching for two reasons:

1.  Kawhi Leonard might be the NBA’s best player. The Clippers are a top-tier championship contender. Leonard’s whereabouts hold more significance for the season than, say, Magic guard Markelle Fultz‘s.

2. The Clippers have misled to protect Leonard before. Though it was easy to see their logic, it leaves them with less credibility here.

Again, hopefully this is only a minor snag. We’ll know more within a few days.

Report: Nets signing Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford vs. Nets
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Most points scored in a player’s last game (among non-active NBA players):

  • Kobe Bryant: 60 (LAL-UTA April 13, 2016)
  • Jamal Crawford: 51 (PHO-DAL April 9, 2019)
  • Alec Peters: 36 (PHO-DAL April 10, 2018)

It’s time to remove Crawford from the list.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A defensive liability who needs the ball in his hands, 40-year-old Crawford can still make difficult shots remarkably well. But most teams can build a lineup and system that consistently create more efficient shots than the tough looks Crawford specializes in.

The Nets aren’t most teams.

Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie are both out. Caris LeVert, Garrett Temple Chris Chiozza and Tyler Johnson are an underwhelming backcourt rotation.

Crawford can add scoring punch. With the point guard-deficient Suns last season, he also showed passing ability, though a good team won’t ask too much of him.

Reminder: The Nets will keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy, Brooklyn would probably convey a later pick to the Timberwolves next season.

If nothing else, this is a tremendous personal achievement for Crawford, who badly wanted to keep playing. He has kept in tremendous shape for his age and built a strong reputation in the locker room, earning himself more opportunities.  If everything goes according to plan, Crawford will join Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to play 20 NBA seasons.

Stephen Jackson peddles another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, says he’s misunderstood

Stephen Jackson
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Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has drawn criticism – including from the Eagles – for posting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory (incorrectly) attributed to Adolph Hitler.

DeSean Jackson apologized twice and pledged to educate himself.

Stephen Jackson insists he’s being unfairly maligned.

Stephen Jackson:

Today’s word is assume. Assume.

To all my Jewish people, I love y’all. Y’all took the video the wrong way. I said he was right stemming from a conversation we had before I got on Live about how they’re handling him and how they handled Cooper when he said the n-word. They didn’t handle them the same way, and that wasn’t right. And that’s what I was talking about. I love y’all. You’ll never find a video or article of me saying I hate anybody. Let me clear that up.

Assume. Today’s word. As a black man, you get pulled over by the police, they assume you’re about to run. They assume you’ve got drugs in the car. They assume you’ve got a gun. They assume the worst, right?

I didn’t say nothing about Jews or supporting Hitler at all in that video. But that’s what they assume I said. And y’all wonder why we’re fighting for equality. Because y’all assume the worst from a black man. I love everybody. I’ve always stood that way. Love for all who have love for all. So, why would you assume I hate somebody?

Too often, apologies get labeled as a “non-apology.” This is a non-apology.

When he said DeSean Jackson is “speaking the truth,” Stephen Jackson sounded like he was talking about DeSean Jackson’s Hitler post – not a private conversation with DeSean Jackson, as Stephen Jackson indicates now.

A reminder of what Stephen Jackson said about DeSean Jackson (emphases mine):

He was trying to educate himself, educate people, and he’s speaking the truth, right? He’s speaking the truth. You know he don’t hate nobody, but he’s speaking the truth of the facts that he knows and trying to educate others.

How do those bolded sections make any sense based on a private conversation between DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson?

If this is a case of Stephen Jackson simply not choosing his words carefully enough, it’d be far easier to forgive him. After all, he has now gone out of his way to say he loves Jews.

But Stephen Jackson doesn’t deserve much benefit of the doubt while he also spreads other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Fred Katz of The Athletic:

Police too often make negative assumptions about Black people. That should be addressed.

But, best I can tell, Stephen Jackson is being judged fairly here. He’s promoting anti-Semitic messages. He’s getting treated like someone promoting anti-Semitic messages.

Do I believe Stephen Jackson wants to be anti-Semitic? No. My best guess is his heart is in the right place while his head is in the wrong place. But Stephen Jackson is still spreading anti-Semitism. Even if that’s due to “only” ignorance, he can’t correct that until acknowledging his errors and learning from them. Blaming everyone else for misunderstanding him is not the answer.

Stephen Jackson is also wrong in his comparison to Riley Cooper, a white Eagles receiver who was caught on video saying the n-word in 2013. Like with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles released a statement criticizing Cooper. They didn’t cut Cooper. They also haven’t cut DeSean Jackson. Even if they eventually cut DeSean Jackson, I suspect they’ll follow similar guidelines: Deciding whether the player is good enough to offset the trouble caused by his reprehensible speech.

Magic player tests positive for coronavirus

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The race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference keeps getting sadder. Somehow.

The Nets are decimated. The Wizards are missing their best players. And the Magic – who already have Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu sidelined – have complications with Markelle Fultz and another unnamed player.

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble Tuesday without an unidentified player who tested positive for COVID-19 and guard Markelle Fultz, whose entry was delayed due to a personal issue.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that Fultz is dealing with a personal matter unrelated to the virus. His absence is excused and the league is aware of his situation, according to Weltman. He said Fultz is following all safety protocols and expects a “seamless transition” for the guard’s return, although Weltman did not have a specific timetable for when that will be.

It’s unclear whether the unnamed player was among the 25 players the NBA announced tested positive.

Fultz and the other player will have to follow protocols for players travelling to Disney World after their teams arrive.

The Magic have D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard if Fultz is unavailable. But I’ll take Weltman at his word that Fultz will return to the team smoothly.