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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.

Former Celtic Guerschon Yabusele fined for not looking at flag during Chinese national anthem

Guerschon Yabusele
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Guerschon Yabusele washed out with the Celtics.

So, now the former first-rounder is playing in China – and running into trouble.

The Chinese Basketball Association fined him for not looking at the flag during the national anthem:

Though Yabusele is French, this comes amid heightened tension between the NBA and China. Most Americans will probably find it ridiculous that looking at the flag during the national anthem is required in authoritarian China.

Meanwhile, let’s ostracize anyone who dares not to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Portland reportedly applies for disabled player exception after Rodney Hood injury

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Rodney Hood‘s season coming to an end because of a ruptured Achilles was a real blow to Portland — he had become a critical part of their rotation. That has led to a lot of speculation about already shorthanded Portland jumping into the trade market soon looking for someone to absorb those minutes, as well as hitting the buyout market hard next February.

Portland is now looking for a little more money to spend to bring someone in, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The “disabled player exemption” allows a team over some space to go after a replacement for a player lost due to injury. This is a fairly standard process and likely will be approved. Portland can use that money on a free agent (Iman Shumpert is available again) or someone bought out by another team.

Portland is 10-16 on the season, set back in part due to injuries to the front line. The Blazers knew Jusuf Nurkic would miss most of the season, and he was vital to them, but they were counting on Zach Collins to step up and absorb those minutes. Then he needed shoulder surgery. Portland eventually turned to Carmelo Anthony to help along the frontline, and he has performed well enough for them to guarantee his contract for the season.

Portland is going to be active, both looking at free agents and on the trade market. Just don’t expect a Kevin Love deal (he may want it but his contract makes that nearly impossible).

Rumor: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul stated intent to join Mavericks until Howard backed out

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
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The Mavericks went from winning the 2011 NBA championship to missing the playoffs within two years.

Somewhat by choice.

Of course, they wanted to remain competitive. But they were willing to accept a lower floor to maintain financial flexibility. They let key players – most notably Tyson Chandler – leave in order to chase bigger stars.

Dallas was repeatedly linked to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who could’ve become free agents in 2012 but opted in. They finally hit the market in 2013, but once again spurned the Mavericks. Paul re-signed with the Clippers, and Howard left the Lakers for the Rockets.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

I really think that they, Chris and Dwight, basically wink, wink said they were going to Dallas, from what I’ve heard, and that Dwight backed out.

Word on the street. But we hear a lot of stories. That’s one story I’ve heard.

This is the peril of making arrangements in underground free agency. They’re unbinding. That was especially true with Howard, who waffled through the Dwightmare with the Magic. The Mavericks might have proceeded in the smartest way, but it backfired. Dallas is only now re-emerging upward with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

This also creates a fun “what if?” How good would Dallas have been? Paul remained elite, but Howard and Dirk Nowitzki were slipping. Where would the Clippers have gone with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but without Paul? Would they still have held the credibility required to lure Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer? Where would Houston have turned without Howard as the star to pair with James Harden?

Serge Ibaka says he nearly goaltended Kawhi Leonard’s iconic shot: ‘I would’ve retired’

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Kawhi Leonard hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history – a buzzer-beater that bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced in during Game 7 of last year’s second-round Raptors-76ers series and propelled Toronto toward an eventual title.

Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, via Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

“I didn’t think it was going in. I was under the basket trying to go for the offensive rebound. The ball was bouncing and one time I was so close to going [for it]. Thank God I didn’t because it could have been goaltending. That would’ve been bad. I would’ve retired. If that had happened I would have retired.”

In hindsight, that would’ve been catastrophic. It would have been been bad at the time, too – but only so bad.

The Bucks, Toronto’s opponent in the Eastern Conference finals, looked better than the Raptors. The Western Conference-winning Warriors were widely viewed as invincible. Few would have thought Ibaka’s goaltend would’ve cost Toronto a championship.

Thankfully for him and the Raptors, we now know better.