LeBron eyeing his third title, first for Cavaliers (Yahoo Sports)

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 20: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots against Tony Snell #20 of the Chicago Bulls on October 20, 2014 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Four years away from home changed LeBron James. He came back more mature, more focused, more complete – in a class by himself as a player.


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WATCH: Paul George takes court for first time since leg injury

Clear signs of a speedy recovery from Indiana Pacers perennial All-Star Paul George. Three months after suffering a harrowing compound fracture this past July, George was recently filmed letting shots up during a Pacers shoot-around Monday night after practice. George seemed overjoyed to rub off the three month rust with a variety of mid-range and three point jumpers. Many are ruling the injury to cost George the entire 2014-15 NBA season, but the anxious George is pushing for a mid-season return. Although he looks to move extremely well this early in the recovery process, Paul George is nowhere near game shape. I repeat, nowhere near! To risk a quick comeback at 80% for a meaningless couple of matchups at the tail end of season could turn into Derrick Rose 2.0! Come back fully restored next season at superstar level to help the Indiana Pacers compete for a strong playoff run, in the race for a Eastern Conference title. The post Paul George Takes The Court For First Time…

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Heat win first game of preseason, beat Warriors (Yahoo Sports)

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 17: James Ennis #32 of the Miami Heat shoots the ball against the Miami Heat during a game on October 17, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chris Bosh scored 21 points and Luol Deng and Shawne Williams added 19 each to help the Miami Heat win their first game in the preseason with a 115-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night.


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Florida suspends Chris Walker for first 2 games

The sophomore has been suspended for the 1st 2 games of the season for violating team rules

      
 

 

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Toronto Raptors: Lessons from the First Half of the Preseason

For the first time in years, analysts believe that the Toronto Raptors camp has started with stability

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan lead the group of returning stars, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and the revitalized bench is still intact, and Dwane Casey’s coaching staff is unchanged.

But don’t let that fool you. The Raptors preseason is filled with intrigue.

Where will the newly acquired Lou Williams fit in to the Toronto Raptors rotation? 

Can the Raps maintain last year’s stingy defensive play?

Who will secure the final roster spot—Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton, or Greg Stiemsma?

Let’s take a look at what we have learned about these Raptors as they move towards the beginning of the 2014-15 NBA season.

 

Lou Williams: The Leader of the Bench

The Toronto Raptors acquired Williams and Lucas Nogueira in the offseason deal that sent John Salmons (and his expiring contract) to the Atlanta Hawks

Lou Williams suffered through an awful season last year, as he worked his way back from offseason knee surgery. He shot only 40 percent from the floor and scored a career-low 10.4 points per game.

With his role as a Hawk uncertain, Williams was excited for the move to the Raptors. 

As per Alex Kennedy at BasketballInsiders.com, Lou Williams said:

I’m excited to get in the gym with these guys. I’m excited to build with them. I always like competing with guys that love competing. Based off of talking to DeMar, Kyle and Amir, they want to win and they feel like guys don’t take them seriously. So I’m excited to get it started.

Though his preseason started slowly, Williams started as Kyle Lowry sat on Monday night. Williams dropped 21 points on the New York Knicks.

If Lou Williams can continue to define a prominent bench role, he and Greivis Vasquez will form a dynamic duo coming off the bench to keep starters Lowry and DeMar DeRozan fresh throughout the season.

This is exciting for Toronto Raptors fans.

 

Raptors Defense Still on Summer Holidays

Sure, it’s just the preseason. Teams aren’t starting regular-season rosters. No one is watching the standings. 

But don’t tell that to Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who has openly lamented the state of his team’s defensive intensity.

As Ryan Wolstat for the Toronto Sun reported, Casey said:

We’re not anywhere near the defensive intensity we need. We need a better focus, a better interest in playing defence and I don’t see that as a team…I don’t expect us to be in February form, but we have to get out of the summer league, summer-time, one-on-one, no-interest-in-playing-defence mindset.

Maybe Casey sounds like an old grouch nagging his young stars about defense in games that don’t count. 

More likely, it’s Casey’s intensity regarding attention to detail that has helped propel this young team to the top of the list of Eastern Conference contenders.

The Raptors players would be wise to heed their coach’s advice before the games are for real.

 

The Final Roster Spot: Cherry, Hamilton, or Stiemsma?

As the preseason wears on, there is only one true roster battle for the Toronto Raptors. With 17 players in camp, the Raps will need to cut two players to satisfy the roster limit. 

Point guard Will Cherry has had a yawn-inspiring camp, posting per-game averages of 12.9 minutes, a 1.67/1.33 assists-to-turnovers ratio, and 3.67 points.

With Lowry, Vasquez and Williams ahead of him, Cherry’s chances are slim.

Forward Jordan Hamilton has averaged 9.75 points in approximately 16 MPG, which is a solid rate.

However, Hamilton plays at a postition of strength for the Toronto Raptors. With DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, James Johnson and others playing in the same spot, Hamilton will need to be spectacular throughout the rest of camp to earn a bench spot with this team.

Don’t count on it.

Finally, center Greg Stiemsma seems to suit an organizational need. Averaging 1.25 block per game throughout his career, “Steamer” would help the Raptors who do not have a true shot-blocker.

Stiemsma has been sluggish throughout camp, but Jonas Valanciunas is the Toronto Raptors’ only true center. 

The smart money is on Stiemsma earning the last bench spot, though the remaining games in training camp will help Masai Ujiri in selecting which of these players will remain with the club.

 

Looking Forward

Partway through the preseason schedule, the Toronto Raptors are fitting an important new piece into their rotation, searching for defensive intensity and deciding on a key bench reserve player to provide the depth needed for a playoff run.

Maybe camp isn’t quite as stable or meaningless as some analysts think.

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Miami Heat: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not Through First Week Of Preseason

The Miami Heat have played a collective total of three games thus far, going winless in the process.
The highlight of the Heat’s preseason through one week of play was their overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers this past Saturday. The game marked the first time LeBron James played his former team, Miami, since signing with the Cavs in July.
The Heat trailed by as many as 20 points, but rallied back to force the game into overtime.
While much of the attention during the game was placed on LeBron and his former ‘Big Three’ castmates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, younger players such as James Ennis and Shabazz Napier were the real stars of the game.
The preseason is not as significant for established players such as Wade and Bosh, as it is for evaluating young players and rookies such as Ennis and Napier. Both players could play key roles in the rotation for Miami in the upcoming season.
While the wins and losses aren’t important during this time of the year, the evaluation of playe…

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Why Byron Scott Is the Perfect First Coach for Jordan Clarkson

An NBA rookie’s first head coach can make him or break him. For Jordan Clarkson of the Los Angeles Lakers, the hope is that Byron Scott will be the perfect teacher, counselor, disciplinarian and giver of confidence.

Clarkson—the team’s No. 46 pick this season—is a combo guard with great speed, athleticism and ball-handling skills. The Lakers are currently in their second week of training camp, but the rookie has been working out for months at the team’s El Segundo practice facility.

In mid-September, Clarkson was interviewed by Mike Trudell for Lakers.com and said, “Coach is doing a great job, coming in the gym and working with me.”

It shows a level of personal attention that not all head coaches offer. But for Scott, it’s part of a long-established pattern.

A three-time NBA champion as a shooting guard for the Showtime-era Lakers, Scott transitioned his success to the sidelines, taking the New Jersey Nets to the Finals twice, earning Coach of the Year with the New Orleans Hornets and as a guy generally regarded as a player’s coach.

Developing a couple of high-profile rookies—Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving—helped Scott earn that reputation. 

The mentoring habit started earlier than that, however.

For his final season as a player, Scott was brought back by the Lakers in order to mentor a willful and precocious rookie named Kobe Bryant.

Eighteen years later, the two are still close and working together once again.

This same type of lasting relationship can now be formed between Scott and Clarkson—a player with a self-admitted chip on his shoulder. This summer at the team’s practice facility, the brand new rookie said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

I feel like I was one of the better point guards in the draft, maybe the best. But falling out of the first round and being selected in the round. It’s not about the number being drafted. It’s about the fit. That’s where I get my chip from.

That type of confidence is often evident when a player first comes into the league—before the challenges of learning new systems and a different level of competition, before injuries and a grueling schedule, before sitting on the bench and wondering why, and before getting chopped down to size and lost in the NBA shuffle.

In today’s game, coaches are under inordinate pressure to win and win now, riding a carousel that stops ever more frequently. They rarely have the luxury or job security to invest time in the kind of extensive development that will pay off at some point down the line.

Scott, however, does put in the extra effort. And, his teachings are more than X’s and O’s. Heading into his fourth season in the league, Paul spoke with Keith Peneguy of The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune about Scott: “Coach is my guy. He’s more than just my coach. He’s my friend, my mentor, somebody that I look up to and somebody I have the ultimate respect for.”

Paul is arguably the top point guard in the NBA right now, and he learned from a coach who was once a guard who learned from Magic Johnson. These cyclical storylines are found time and again in sports.

Bryant, the aging superstar who learned as a rookie from Scott, is now taking on a mentorship role with younger players, including Clarkson, who has matched up with him in scrimmages throughout training camp.

The young guard spoke about the process recently, per Lakers.com, “I’m being a sponge right now, soaking as much information as I can. Shoot, it just keeps getting better.”

In turn, Bryant offered praise and encouragement during training camp, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

I like Jordan.  I think that was a steal of a pick. I’m surprised he slipped in the draft. Great pace, great feel for the game. He grasps concepts really well. He can shoot the deep ball. He has a really good floater and can get to the rim.

Scott was hired by the Lakers this summer as a familiar face from the past and tasked with the job of righting the ship after three disappointing seasons under two different head coaches: Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. The new coach inherited a roster made up of aging stars, former draft busts and unproven prospects.

His solution has been to go back to fundamental concepts, like defense and accountability, and adopting a championship mindset even if nobody else in their right mind would expect that kind of result from this team.

Clarkson’s game has a lot to do with blow-by speed, great handles and the ability to get to the rim at will. During the Lakers’ five Summer League games in Las Vegas, the second-rounder set out to prove a point—outscoring all his teammates as well as nine of the top 10 picks to appear in action—the exception being Joel Embiid, who was recuperating from foot surgery.

In training camp, however, Scott is trying to teach his young charge about discipline and defensive principles, and about playing off the ball and taking open shots rather than contested ones.

There are points at which the lessons seem to leave an impression, with Clarkson telling Trudell, “I know I’m gonna have to come here in and play defense for sure. Coach Scott holds his hat on that, so that’s what I’m gonna try to bring it on the first day, on the defensive end. Everything else will come along if I do that.”

But during the team’s first preseason game, the rookie reverted to his natural instincts and went into gunner mode, lofting up 13 shot attempts in 27 minutes and making only three of those. On a more positive note, he got to the line often, had five rebounds and scrambled after loose balls on the floor.

After the game, Byron was asked how Clarkson did and responded via Lakers.com video:

Not bad, not bad. I think he took some ill-advised shots, a couple of quick shots, so we’ve got to do a better job of understanding, what’s a good shot and what’s not. But, for his first game, on the defensive end, I think he did a decent job as well. I was happy with it.

Scott is a tough, old-school coach, but he’s also a patient one. Even when Clarkson was jacking up rim-clankers, he was allowed to remain on the floor. In time, he found his rhythm. The leash is longer during the preseason, of course, but that’s what training camp is supposed to be about—learning opportunities rather than knee-jerk punishments.

During the team’s second preseason game, against the Golden State Warriors, Clarkson again was a bit hyperkinetic before leaving the game due to a left calf strain. Such is life in the NBA.

Tigers don’t generally change their stripes. Bryant, Paul and Irving all came into the league with certain ingrained instincts and styles. But they have also grown as players, and Scott deserves credit for his part in that.

This season, Clarkson will get a chance to play meaningful minutes and develop his game. He won’t be expected to save a franchise, nor will he be treated as an afterthought. He will learn the game of professional basketball the right way.

Thirty-one years after his own rookie season, an old guard will be guiding a new one. This could be a memorable journey for Clarkson, and it begins with a perfect first coach in Scott.

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WATCH: Kobe’s first shot of the preseason didn’t go too well

Kobe Bryant has been working very hard over the offseason to get ready for the… Article found on: Next Impulse Sports

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Spoelstra almost turned down first job with Heat

When a club official called with a date for an interview, Spoelstra was inclined to pass because he had tickets to a Grateful Dead concert.

      
 

 

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Who Will Return to Relevance First: The Celtics, Lakers or Knicks?

The Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks are all taking very different approaches to rebuilding. Whose strategy is the most conducive to a quick turnaround?

Howard Beck and Ric Bucher join Adam Lefkoe to debate that topic in the video above.

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