Bulls Looking to Open Season with 7-0 Road Record for 1st Time

The Chicago Bulls improved to 6-0 on the road with Monday’s 105-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, marking the first time since 1996-97 the franchise has won each of its first six road games in a season, per NBA.com/stats.

The NBA’s only team with an undefeated record away from home, Chicago largely benefited from an easy road schedule at first, moving to 4-0 thanks to wins over the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

The past two road victories were far more impressive, with Monday’s skunking of the Clippers preceded by a 100-93 win over the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 13. The 8-2 Raptors have won each of their other six home games by an average margin of 15.3 points

The Bulls, meanwhile, have outscored their opponents by 60 points in the six road games, making for an average margin of exactly 10.

Back in 1996-97, the Bulls won each of their first six road games with an average margin of 13 points, but then lost No. 7 to the Utah Jazz.

Chicago would finish that season with a 69-13 record, before beating Utah 4-2 in the memorable 1997 NBA Finals.

The Bulls’ six-game season-opening road winning streak in 1996-97 came on the heels of a seven-game road streak to close out the previous campaign. The combined 13-game road winning streak still stands as easily the longest in franchise history, per Basketball-Reference.com’s play index.

This year’s Bulls have a long ways to go before thinking about that record, but they’ll still have a chance to become the first team in franchise history with seven consecutive road wins to start a season.

The matchup is certainly winnable, with the Bulls facing the 6-5 Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on Thursday. The Kings have lost four of their last five games after jumping out to a 5-1 start.

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Family Taunting Brooklyn Nets with ‘Nets.com’ Looking to Sell Domain Name

If you ever typed “Nets.com” into your Internet browser, funky things would happen.

Sometimes you’d be taken to the Boston Celtics homepage. Other times you’d be thrown onto Jason Kidd’s website. At its weirdest, you might suddenly find Mark Cuban sticking his tongue in your face.

The address led anywhere but the Brooklyn Nets homepage, and the people behind its creation remained a mystery until stepping forward in a piece published Tuesday by The New York Times’ Andrew Keh

Keh reports that the website, long hailed as a monument to “trolling” the Brooklyn Nets, is owned by Jane Hill, a former photographer and telecom businesswoman living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

Hill, 69, says she purchased “Nets.com” in 1996 for $20,000. She says she’s since enjoyed being the subject of Internet and NBA intrigue over the last several years.

“We’ve had fun with the mystery of it all,” Hill said.

Hill says she began shopping the domain after the Nets announced their plans to move to Brooklyn. Having sold other domains for “seven-figure sums,” she decided to ask for $5 million in her pitch to the team. They didn’t bite. 

Rather, the Nets took offense to the offer. Team spokesman Barry Baum told Keh that the team considered Hill’s attempts to sell “shameful.” 

“Our website is BrooklynNets.com, and our fans know this is our site,” Baum said. “Brooklyn Nets is our brand, and we have no interest in Nets.com, despite the shameful efforts of the registrant to attempt to sell us this domain name for seven figures.”

One person’s shameful ploy is another’s sound business strategy. Hill maintains that the website carries tremendous value, given the scarcity of simple domain names in the market.

“It’s a word in the dictionary,” Hill said. 

Thus the cyber warfare began, with Hill’s 37-year-old son John taking over the responsibility of redirecting the sites’ visitors. He, along with a number of his mother’s employees, redirected traffic to the New York Knicks and New York Mets websites.

“The one compliment I take to heart is when people say, ‘This is the ultimate troll,’ John said. “There’s some joy in that.” 

The most notorious iteration of “Nets.com” featured the aforementioned image of Cuban and his tongue. Plopped onto an amateurishly designed page in late 2012, the photo was accompanied by the words: “Looking for the New Jersey Nets? Looking for the Brooklyn Nets? They’re not here … but they SHOULD be!” 

The page also contained a message for the team’s majority owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Its rough English translation is, “Mikhail, are you watching? Vilena wants to know.”

Some took this to be a stab at Prokhorov’s alleged involvement in an international prostitution ring. Hill told Keh that the mysterious “Vilena” is just the name of a Russian woman who works for her. 

“We were determined not to be malicious in any way,” Hill said. “But we did want to get a little bit of attention.” 

Nets.com no longer redirects, ironically. Typing in the address now takes users to an eBay auction site, where potential owners can bid on the domain. The auction’s description paints the address as a “premium” domain name for tech start-ups, tennis net manufacturers and social networking businesses: 

Perhaps you are a tech start-up with a need for a fantastic domain name to get you off the ground? Are you one of the major players on the planet in the routing and/or networking equipment business? Maybe you are the proprietor of the world’s preeminent manufacturer of tennis court nets? Fishnets? Volleyball nets? Goalpost nets? 

Of course, Hill hasn’t forgotten her preferred buyer.

“Or, maybe you just happen to have a basketball team of the same name?”

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture filigree.

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5 NBA Teams That Should Already Be Looking to Make a Trade

In the NBA, complacency is only a good thing when your team is just rolling along, allowing the “Why mess with a good thing?” inquiry to come into play. 

But for teams that are struggling to meet expectations—or just struggling in general—during the early portion of the 2014-15 season, complacency can’t be a positive. It’s never too soon to begin tinkering with a lineup or a roster, making adjustments that potentially lead to better results. 

For five squads throughout the Association, it’s already time to start working the phones and looking into some possible trades. 

Of course, it’s worth noting that not all of these teams have to make trades in order to turn their seasons around. A number of them are talented enough that they can expect natural progression and improvement even if a deal would be advantageous and speed along the process. 

Looking around at the market never hurt anyone, right? 

 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of Nov. 10.

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Milwaukee Bucks: Looking back at Jennings trade

Last offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Brandon Jennings, one of their best players, to the Detroit Pistons. It was a big move for the Bucks, but it helped inspire a change in direction after spending many years as a mediocre team. In the trade, Milwaukee acquired Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Viacheslav Kravtsov.
Brandon Jennings immediately burst onto the scene his rookie year making a big impact on the Bucks. In his NBA debut, Jennings almost recorded a triple-double scoring 17 points, grabbing nine rebounds and having nine assists. Jennings even had a game where he scored 55 points during his rookie year.
The future looked very bright for Jennings, but over the next few years, he never developed into an all-star caliber player. He was and still is a good player, but he hasn’t improved a great deal since his rookie season. Jennings averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game his rookie year. So far this season, he is averaging 10.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.

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As Injuries Steal Thunder’s Heart, OKC Looking for Ways to Survive Season Ahead

It’s hard to see hope through the thicket of walking boots, casts, Ace bandages and gauze littering the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room. Kevin Durant (broken foot) can’t walk. Russell Westbrook (broken hand) can’t catch. An injury plague of biblical proportions has left the Thunder depleted, dumbfounded.

But Nick Collison is an optimistic sort, and he is insists the silver lining is there, if you squint hard enough.

“We still got five good defenders out there,” the 11-year veteran assures a reporter. “We got all our bigs. Andre’s probably one of our best perimeter defenders. Perry’s one of our best defenders.”

This was Monday morning, and Collison was bravely charting the ways in which the Thunder would remain competitive without Durant and Westbrook, their two electrifying stars.

That night, Andre Roberson sprained his left foot in Brooklyn and left the game.

The next night, Perry Jones bruised his right knee in Toronto and left the game.   

The Thunder lost both games, leaving them with a 1-4 record and two fewer reasons to be optimistic.

In this cruel November, even the Thunder’s silver linings are fractured.

“I don’t really know what to say, other than it’s unfortunate we had another injury,” coach Scott Brooks said late Monday. “That’s just how things are going right now. But we’re not throwing the white flag. We’re going to keep battling.”

It’s hard to overstate just how dire the situation in Oklahoma has become, with Durant and Westbrook out for the foreseeable future and the roster gutted by a dizzying array of fractures, strains and sprains.

Jeremy Lamb is out with a sprained back. Mitch McGary is out with a broken foot. Anthony Morrow is out with a sprained knee. Grant Jerrett is recovering from ankle surgery.

Jones, however, who suffered what the team called a knee contusion and hasn’t practiced, could return as early as Friday night against Memphis, the Thunder believe. 

Circumstances have dictated a complete overhaul of the Thunder’s agenda: from title contention to mere survival. Even a postseason berth is not assured.

It could take 50 wins to make the Western Conference playoffs. Westbrook is out for at least four weeks. Durant could miss 25 games or more. The Thunder’s entire season now boils down to simple math, and two figures in particular: How far out of eighth place will they be when Durant and Westbrook return? And can they win at a high enough rate to make up the distance?

The answer to those questions may be linked to one more: How good is Perry Jones?

Of the remaining Thunder players, Serge Ibaka is the most accomplished and Jackson, the young point guard, is the most offensively skilled. But the 23-year-old Jones is easily the most intriguing, and perhaps the key to the team’s survival.

On the night Westbrook broke his hand, Jones scored 32 points in a narrow loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Two nights later, he scored 23 points in a victory over the Denver Nuggets. On Monday, Jones scored a relatively quiet 16 points against Brooklyn.

Still, that was three straight games of beating his previous career high (14 points), all while displaying the rare combination of size, skill and athleticism that made Jones such a tantalizing prospect in college.

At 6’11″, with a 7’2″ wingspan, Jones has the size to play in the paint, the speed to play on the perimeter, with ball-handling skills and shooting range.

“At certain moments, he looks like a young Magic Johnson, only a little bigger and a lot faster,” a New York Times Magazine story raved in 2011, during Jones’ freshman season at Baylor.

At the time, Jones was pegged as a top-five draft pick. But he chose to return to Baylor for his sophomore season, to continue growing and maturing. He was still viewed as a high lottery pick in 2012, until concerns about his knees and his motor caused him to freefall on draft night.

The Thunder snatched Jones with the 28th pick.

Some teams were scared off by whispers of a degenerative knee condition. Some viewed his laid-back demeanor with suspicion – an indication that, despite his admirable skill set, Jones would never become a star.

But the star-studded Thunder didn’t need another alpha male. In Jones, they saw an ideal complement to Durant and Westbrook: a player who could do it all, but didn’t need to. An elite talent, without the ego.

“He fit the profile of the types of players that we’re generally attracted to,” general manager Sam Presti said, listing Jones’ size, length, quickness and positional versatility.

“And he’s also a guy that is a tremendously diligent worker and he wants to fit in and find ways to blend with the players that are generally carrying the bulk of the weight,” Presti said. “I think that’s a tremendous quality for someone as talented as him.”

The Thunder also had the luxury of letting Jones develop. He spent his rookie season shuttling frequently between the Thunder and their D-League affiliate in Tulsa. He played in just 38 NBA games, averaging 7.4 minutes.

“I think it’d be frustrating for any player,” Jones said. “But also it was a learning experience for me. The last two years have been nothing but learning experiences. What these guys do every day, following in their footsteps, working hard every day….Patience is the key.”

Last season, Jones became more of a fixture, appearing in 62 games for the Thunder but averaging just 12.3 minutes. Along the way, he has polished his three-point stroke and his ball-handling skills.

Jones shot 36 percent on three-pointers last season, on 61 attempts, after taking just two shots from behind the arc as a rookie. Through four games this season, he was shooting 38 percent (8 for 21). He’s also improved his post game.

In athletic testing, Jones outscores the entire Thunder roster, Westbrook and Durant included. He has proven most valuable as the stretch-four in a small-ball lineup, according to the team’s internal analytics.

“We knew he obviously has the talent,” Brooks said of Jones. “It’s hard to get minutes when you’re behind KD. But he’s always been a worker….I’m not going to sit here and say we knew that he was going to score 23 and 32 in two games. But I knew he had the ability to score.”

Although Jones is not a lockdown defender, his versatility is an asset, especially against the pick and roll, allowing him to switch at will. Over the course of Monday’s game, Jones guarded Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Alan Anderson and Bojan Bogdanovic.

But it’s Jones’ offensive potential that matters most right now, with the Thunder missing about 54 points a game between Durant and Westbrook. Ibaka has improved as a scorer, and Jackson showed some flashes last season. Yet in lieu of a single, dominant scoring threat, the Thunder will need multiple options to stay afloat in the coming weeks.

After two years of playing behind Durant, and battling him daily in practice, Jones may need to emulate him.

“I think his assertiveness is maybe that light bulb that’s gone off,” Collison said. “He’s had the ability. If you watch him in a workout, he’s capable of doing anything on the court. He’s as talented as anybody in the league. It’s just that comfort level and always just being assertive out there, not questioning, not second-guessing, and it’s great to see. Hopefully, he can keep going.”

The coming weeks will be a test, not only of Jones, but of the Thunder’s entire roster-building strategy during the Durant-Westbrook era. Their fate rests for now on lower first-round picks like Jones, Jackson (24th in 2013) and Roberson (26th in 2013, by Minnesota). It rests, as well, on the players and picks acquired in the James Harden trade: Steven Adams, Lamb and McGary (once healthy).

Thunder officials believe they have assembled a sturdy, versatile and talented second group behind their stars, despite the low picks and salary-cap constraints. That faith, too, will be tested in the weeks ahead.

Westbrook and Durant could lead the Thunder to the championship next June. But that can’t happen unless Jones, Jackson and Adams can get them through December.

 

 Howard Beck is a senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.

 

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Warriors Injury Update: David Lee looking to return on Wednesday

The Golden State Warriors improved to 3-0 on the 2014-2015 season following a 95-90 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. Clay Thompson lead the Warriors with 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting from the floor. The Warriors were without power forward David Lee for the third straight game due to a hamstring injury. The good news is that Lee should be ready to return for the Warriors next game on Wednesday.HeelSports via Wikimedia CommonsRusty Simmons, who covers the Warriors for The San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted the following on Lee.Warriors power forward David Lee said he’s feeling better and is aiming to return to the lineup for Wednesday’s game vs. the Clippers.— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) November 3, 2014Rotoworld.com also noted that Draymond Green would start for Lee on Sunday and with the Warriors off until Wednesday, it appears Lee will only miss the first three games of the season. Green had five points on 2-of-7 shooting from the floor and six rebounds in 29 minutes against the

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Toronto Raptors Looking to Use Familiar Formula in Order to Take the Next Step

MIAMI — If you were inside the Air Canada Centre on the fourth day of May, your ears took a beating from which it may have taken considerable time to recover. If you were on the floor for that Game 7, wearing Toronto Raptors colors, facing the Brooklyn Nets, your body and psyche took beatings, too.

Dwane Casey believes his kiddie corps has recovered quite nicely from that painful experience, with the entire starting lineup returning, with greater recognition of the focus and force that sort of competition requires, and with a couple of reinforcements in Lou Williams and James Johnson.

In the NBA, continuity, confidence and awareness can be an empowering trio of assets, and the Raptors are convinced they now possess all three. And while they haven’t fully realized a fourth, maturity, Casey believes they’re closer than they were last May, better understanding everything from the precious nature of each possession to the value of spacing to the best ways to handle a bully. 

“Now you get in a tough situation, a team that’s trying to be physical with you and beat you up, that will be nothing compared to what Brooklyn did to us, in Game 7,” the Raptors coach told Bleacher Report, prior to Sunday’s 107-102 loss to the Heat. “(Kevin) Garnett beat the s—t out of us. Joe Johnson beat us. Paul Pierce…”

And yet, they lost by only one, as Pierce swatted Kyle Lowry’s last-ditch fling at the hoop. 

“You can do this,” Casey said, of what his team took. “It did give us something. But again, each and every night, you still have to go out there and get it done. And that’s what we’re learning right now, doing it through adversity, bad calls, missed shots…”

Doing it on the defensive end.

That’s why Sunday’s struggle against Miami, while not definitive, was instructive, in terms of emphasizing how difficult this next step, from good to great, can be.

At one point Sunday, the Heat had connected upon a comical 31 of 49 shots from the field, continuing the exceptional ball movement that they’d also surprisingly shown in the season’s first two games and causing Casey to later lament that “we’ve just got to decide collectively to guard people; I didn’t think they felt us all night.”

The Heat recorded 22 assists to the Raptors’ 11 and generally looked like the team counting on its continuity—that word again—to propel it to early and sustainable success this season.

And they’re not, not with eight new players and three new starters; Chris Bosh admitted before the game that the Heat are “trying to catch up with everybody, but I think we can continue to grind and figure it out until we get on even grounds.” The Cleveland Cavaliers have four new players in their nine-man rotation and, even though LeBron James and Kevin Love are two of them, they’d even spoke of the need for increased reps together.

The Raptors, rather, are supremely positioned to start quick, and then, as Bosh put it, for that quick start to remind them of what worked so well for them during their 42-22 run to the postseason.

That’s the way that continuity can count.

“We hope it does,” Casey said. “I think it does help us. Continuity with terminology, continuity with schemes, continuity with play calls, continuity with the familiarity with each other. They know some things are non-negotiable offensively, some things are non-negotiable defensively. That helps. Anytime you can keep teams together.”

Amir Johnson, whose ankle-related absence was felt Sunday, said prior to sitting that “the best thing we have is chemistry, because we have players who have been together for a couple of years now.”

“It goes a long way, honestly,” DeMar DeRozan added. “Everybody knows everybody’s game. Everybody knows where they like the ball. It’s just second nature now. Sometimes. chemistry can beat talent. A lot of nights. I think we have that chemistry. We’ve been through a lot of struggles.

“Especially last year, with a lot of us learning on the go, from playing in the playoffs. It was just a lot that we took from it, that we’ve grown from. And the work that we put in this summer on top of the motivation we had from all last season, it definitely gives us the hunger to want more.”

How did that hunger manifest itself in the offseason?

Casey spoke of DeRozan specifically, as being “stronger with the basketball now,” whereas “in the past, that’s been an issue with him.” The 25-year-old just made his first All-Star team, and he’s impressed enough of his peers that Dwyane Wade, prior to Sunday’s game, asserted that “the only reason you don’t hear more about him is he’s playing in Toronto.”

He’s still a suspect long-range shooter (30.5 percent last season), so it’s critical that he be dynamic (eight free throws per game last season), but also responsible, as a ball-handler and attacker in order to produce efficient overall offensive numbers.

“We’re stronger with the ball, more confident with the ball,” Casey said of the collective. “I think that’s a product of getting a taste of playoff basketball last year. Before, I think you breathe on us a little bit, we’d cough it up. But now, we’re stronger with it, creating contact and finishing plays. That’s just a point of maturity. The same people, but worked hard this summer in the weight room, with the pads.”

That has shown in all three of their games. In their first two, victories against Atlanta and Orlando, they shot a total of 81 free throws. Sunday, they shot 39 more, with Lowry and DeRozan taking 25 of them but missing 11 of them together. Such misses could prove fatal in a postseason series, a series that, as the Raptors know too well, you can lose by a single point.

“I missed too many tonight and we just didn’t play our game,” Lowry said afterward.

That game, when they get to it, should be good enough to win the Atlantic Division, which may be the league’s weakest, with Boston and Philadelphia rebuilding, and the Knicks and Nets middling. That may even allow them to rack up enough wins to secure the No. 3 seed, with Central Division inhabitants Chicago and Cleveland the preseason conference favorites. But that alone won’t get them celebrating, not if they again fail to take their season past the first week of May.

“Honestly, we felt like we haven’t done anything,” DeRozan said. “I mean, cool, we made the playoffs, but everybody on this team definitely wants more than that. I think the work we put in this summer showed that. But, honestly, we’re just not satisfied with anything we did last year.”

That’s an attitude that Luol Deng can appreciate. The Heat forward was part of a team in Chicago that appeared to be surging into serious contention (improving from 41 to 49 wins in 2006-07) before falling back to 33 the next season and getting its coach, Scott Skiles, fired. Then, after two 41-win seasons, the Bulls made the major leap to 62 in 2010-11.

What’s the key to a carry-over?

“I think it’s just not getting comfortable,” Deng said. “Last year, Toronto could have creeped up on some people and stole some games, and it took people a while to realize, ‘Wow, they’re for real.’ And now, after last year, Toronto is one of the teams you’ve got to show up for. They’ve earned that respect. When you’re in the NBA, you want that respect.

“And soon we’re gonna get the same thing. Beginning of the year, the Miami Heat, Se don’t know what they’re gonna be. Now you win a few games, now the next team you play, we got Houston next, I guarantee they’re gonna be up for that one.”

Especially now that the Heat are 3-0.

The Raptors are 2-1.

Both teams can, and must, get much better to have a real chance to compete for an Eastern Conference championship, considering the depth of talent on Cleveland and Chicago.

The Heat, so far, have nicely regrouped from the departure of the planet’s premier player.

The Raptors have been granted an opportunity that the 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers (following a surprising run to the second round) and the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets (following a surprising run to the third seed) were not.

They have returned with roughly the same team and—to differentiate from those Nuggets—exactly the same coach, albeit one on more solid ground than at the start of last season, before the Raptors traded Rudy Gay and stunningly stormed the league.

That coach, Casey, won’t let his players forget that “we haven’t done anything yet,” and “the moment you think you’ve arrived is the moment that somebody’s gonna step up and knock you upside the head.”

He does have some recent models in his head (Miami and San Antonio as consistent franchises, Oklahoma City as an example of steady growth, even the Indiana core that advanced an additional step for three straight seasons before stalling in 2014).

But Casey isn’t thinking much about a victory total.

“Everybody is talking about you know, 50 wins, no, no, no,” Casey said. “Our core guys, DeRozan, [Jonas] Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are still young. They still have a lot of room to grow. That’s something they accomplished last year, was them growing and then us winning at the same time. That’s why I don’t want to put a number on anything, just continue to grow and the wins will take care of themselves.”

He has two. Two in three.

Defend better than they did Sunday, and there soon may be many more, maybe even much later in May.

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Minnesota Timberwolves: Looking at the first week of games

The Minnesota Timberwolves end the first week of the regular season with one win and two losses. The two losses were against teams that made the playoffs in the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies, while the one win came against the weak Detroit Pistons.
All of the Timberwolves games this week were very close and while they were able to close out a win in a close game against Detroit, they did struggle again with finishing games against Chicago and Memphis.
1st win at Target Center happened this Thursday
With Memphis, the Timberwolves made a lot of bad turnovers that really hurt them in the end. Against Detroit, Thaddeus Young and Mo Williams hit some big shots that helped put the Pistons away after the Timberwolves let the Pistons back in the game after being up by 19 points at one point.
Yesterday’s loss against Chicago, was the one that was tough to swallow. The Memphis game the Timberwolves deserved to lose after having a lot of bad turnovers in crucial moments, but the Timberwolves should have won the

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Huskers looking for more after breakthrough season (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2014, file photo, Nebraska coach Tim Miles shouts instructions in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State in Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska was the surprise team in the Big Ten with its fourth-place finish last season, and coach Miles believes he has the pieces in place for a big encore. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)

These are heady days for the Nebraska basketball program. The Cornhuskers are coming off their highest conference finish and first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998, and played to sellout crowds in their first year at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Shavon Shields said when he and his teammates went out to lunch or to the movies during the offseason, well-wishers were quick to slap them on the back and urge them to keep the wins coming.


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Looking through the eyes of GIannis Antetokounmpo

All too often do we see young, new athletes rise to fame and become distracted within the world they call their passion by money, attention and, occasionally, an assortment of rigmarole. So, to watch a young player still focused on his game and wanting nothing more than to excel tremendously and willing to execute all […]
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