Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor already shows ability to adapt

Stanford stifled Okafor’s scoring early, and the talented freshman didn’t try to force things.

      
 

 

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On the rise: Texas shows its depth, potential

The Longhorns, coming off wins in New York, are relevant in the Big 12 and nationally.

      
 

 

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On the rise: Texas shows its depth, potential in N.Y.

The Longhorns, coming off wins in New York, are relevant in the Big 12 and nationally.

      
 

 

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John Wall Shows Kyrie Irving He’s Top PG in East and Other Friday NBA Takeaways

In August, Team USA opted to take Kyrie Irving to the FIBA World Cup instead of John Wall. After the Washington Wizards‘ 91-78 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, it appears the Kentucky product may not have forgotten about it.

Wall tallied 28 points and seven assists against the Cavaliers, outperforming his point-guard counterpart in almost every statistical category. He tallied 17 of those points in the third quarter alone, carrying the Wizards as they maintained a lead that was 13 points at the half.

Perhaps we should have expected as much from a floor general on a mission.

“You want to make every team you try out for,” Wall told CSNWashington’s Ben Standig in August after being snubbed by Team USA. “When you don’t, it’s more motivation for me…I guess I’m overlooked again. I guess have to prove myself one more time.”

So far, he’s doing just that and building upon his career-best 2013-14 campaign. Through 11 games, the 24-year-old is averaging 19.5 points, 9.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest. His Wizards have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 8-3.

It’s been a far cry from Irving’s 5-6 start and the early questions plaguing Cleveland’s star-studded experiment.

For the season, Irving has scored more prolifically and more efficiently than Wall, thanks in large part to his superior perimeter shooting. But with 4.4 more assists per game, there’s little doubt Wall is the superior playmaker at the moment.

Comparisons between the two have become commonplace, a natural consequence of their statuses as two of the league’s very best young point guards. Reviewing last season’s performances, Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale recently concluded that:

Though the numbers, by all appearances, were close—nigh carbon copies—Wall became just the sixth player, aged 23 or younger, in NBA history to average at least 19.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game, and did so for a top-seven defensive team. Irving, when healthy, was filling the box score for a bottom-15 defense and bottom-10 offense while rumors of discord persisted.  

From that perspective, Friday’s outcome may be a microcosm of the broader contrasts between these two. Irving may remain the better scorer, but Wall’s the one doing just about everything else—like spearheading a defense that helped force 19 turnovers by the Cavaliers.

To be sure, under-25 bragging rights aren’t entirely a two-man race. With 24-year-old Damian Lillard becoming a star for the Portland Trail Blazers and reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams potentially following suit, the position should be in pretty good hands for the foreseeable future.

And nowhere more so than in Washington, where Wall is under contract with the organization through at least the 2018-19 season, when he’ll make $17,811,625 per a five-year extension signed in 2013. 

The Cavaliers may well prove the better team in time, but that doesn’t mean they have the better point guard. Wall is steadily putting that debate to rest.

 

Mavs’ Offense On Record Pace

The Los Angeles Lakers‘ porous defense certainly did its part in an embarrassing 140-106 loss to the Dallas Mavericks—even if head coach Byron Scott was more interested in crediting the victors.

Whatever the culprit, Dallas scored more points than a collection of mere mortals should. Three players scored at least 20 points, and eight scored in double figures. 

It’s already the third time this season at least seven Mavericks have scored at least 10 points in a game.

Indeed, these kind of outbursts are becoming something of a trend for the Mavericks, who were scoring a league-leading 116.7 points per 100 possessions coming into Friday’s contest—which would be an all-time record were it to remain unchanged. The 1986-87 Lakers averaged 115.6 points per 100 possessions, setting the current mark for offensive efficiency (h/t The Washington Post‘s Neil Greenberg).

Having added emergent small forward Chandler Parsons via restricted free agency this summer, the electric offense has come as no surprise—especially after it ranked third league-wide a season ago. Now the only question is whether this club can maintain its historic pace.

Dallas’ eruption put a quick end to Los Angeles’ two-game winning streak, dropping the Lakers to an early 3-10 record. Defensive efforts like this one raise questions about just how much that record will improve.

Excepting the unflappably competitive Kobe Bryant, Scott may have his locker room pegged. These Lakers don’t yet seem sufficiently outraged by their collective futility.

 

Raptors Pile It On

Everything had been going so well for the Milwaukee Bucks

Then the Toronto Raptors happened to them, and by a painful 41-point margin. Friday’s 124-83 victory takes Toronto to a 10-2 record, good for best in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors did it in spite of a 1-for-8 shooting performance from star DeMar DeRozan.

One might have expected this kind of result a season ago, when Milwaukee’s 15 wins were the league’s fewest. But with a now 7-6 record this season, the Bucks appear to have turned a corner under new head coach Jason Kidd.

For the moment, however, this young team still has some work to do.

 

Magic Comeback Extends Hornets‘ Skid

The 6-and-8 Orlando Magic trailed by as many as 23 points in the second half (and by 15 entering the final frame) before finally securing a 105-100 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Veteran Willie Green pushed Orlando up for good with a put-back in the final minute, scoring all nine of his points in a fourth quarter that saw the Magic outscore Charlotte by a 41-21 margin.

Friday’s loss marked the Hornets’ fourth in a row, dropping their record to 4-9. It’s a disappointing start for a team that claimed a No. 8 seed last season, especially after this summer’s addition of Lance Stephenson—who was just 5-for-15 from the field against Orlando.

If the playoffs began today, Orlando would own that No. 8 seed.

 

Sixers’ Pain Knows No End

After tying an NBA record with 26 consecutive losses a season ago, one wonders just how long the Philadelphia 76ers‘ current streak could last. After a 122-96 thrashing at the hands of the now 8-5 Phoenix Suns, Philly collected its 12th loss of the young season.

We’re still waiting on that first win.

Carter-Williams recently told reporters, “I think we’ll get a win shortly.”

Of what was then an 0-11 start, he added, “People will talk about it and give us crap for it, but it is what it is. We’ve got to stick together as a team.”

If only sticking together could make a difference. 

 

Love Learning to Share

We knew Kevin Love would make sacrifices with the Cavaliers. Now sharing the floor with Irving and four-time MVP LeBron James, his ordinarily gaudy numbers were bound to take a hit—just as they did on Friday, when he tallied eights points and eight rebounds.

“It marked the first time he had single figures in scoring and rebounding in a game in which he played at least 15 minutes since doing so Nov. 19, 2010 against the Lakers,” according to ESPN Stats and Information.

And it almost certainly won’t be the last time the 26-year-old finds himself playing a more complementary role this season.

 

Injuries Piling Up for Bulls

The Chicago Bulls entered their 105-87 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers already missing Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich due to injuries. Things managed to get even worse before Friday’s action was all said and done.

With six minutes and four seconds remaining in the third quarter, power forward Taj Gibson sprained his left ankle after an awkward landing on Wesley Matthews’ foot.

He reportedly had to use crutches after he was taken to the locker room. Though Chicago has managed to maintain an 8-5 record with the injuries (which have caused Rose alone to miss eight games), this is getting a little ridiculous. Health will be essential for this team to grow into its championship potential.

 

Warriors Still Getting Better

Though it’s hard to find fault with a 9-2 record and the league’s third-best point differential (+10.5), the Golden State Warriors somehow lead the league with 19.3 turnovers per contest.

That may be changing, though. Head coach Steve Kerr’s team only gave the ball away 13 times in Friday’s 101-88 win against the Utah Jazz. Stephen Curry and Co. racked up 28 assists, including this beauty to center Andrew Bogut.

Through the club’s last four games, it’s only averaging 13.3 turnovers—a marked improvement. The Warriors have won each of those four games, each by no fewer than eight points.

 

Quote of the Night

Though most anticipated some growing pains from the new-look Cavaliers, few would have predicted a 5-6 start to the season. Head coach David Blatt is looking for answers just like everyone else.

Playing in the dark. Between this team’s nascent chemistry and its young players’ obvious learning curve, Blatt has a point. We’ll soon find out if he also has some solutions.     

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Shabazz Napier shows crafty ball handling skills vs Nets (Video)

Miami Heat rookie point guard Shabazz Napier was showing off his crafty ball handling skills during the second quarter of Monday night’s game in Brooklyn.Napier had Deron Williams’ head spinning with his behind-the-back dribbling and shake-and-bake moves.Napier scored 11 points as the Heat beat the Nets 95-83.Video via NBA.
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Report: Surveillance footage shows confrontation, no slap in Blake Griffin incident

Blake Griffin has been formally charged with a count of misdemeanor battery in relation to an incident that occurred in a Las Vegas nightclub last month. But TMZ reports that law enforcement sources tell them that surveillance footage shows a confrontation between the Los Angeles Clippers superstar and the alleged victim, but nothing more. Griffin…Read More
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Gordon Hayward’s Big Night Against LeBron James Again Shows He’s Worth the Money

It’s not at all uncommon for max contracts to young NBA players to draw considerable criticism.

Gordon Hayward should know. His four-year, $63 million offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets, which spurred the Utah Jazz to match this past summer, garnered more than a few suspicious side-eyes when it was signed. As Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote after Charlotte’s pitch but before Utah’s retort:

Look, this is an overpayment for Hayward, even with the cap set to rise by $4 million or so every season going forward. This is different than betting on Holiday to produce $11 million of on-court value. This is a deal that will average better than $15 million per season for a guy who shot 41 percent overall and barely cracked 30 percent from long range.

Lowe was far from alone in that regard. His poor campaign on a 25-win Jazz squad hardly seemed the sort that beckoned for a big investment.

So far, the Jazz’s big bet on Hayward in the free-agent market is paying Apple-caliber dividends. Hayward’s stellar two-way performance in Utah’s 102-100 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at EnergySolutions Arena was just the latest.

The fifth-year guard out of Butler capped his night with a game-winning, 21-foot step-back at the horn over the outstretched arm of a lunging Tristan Thompson, who was himself covering for LeBron James after the four-time MVP stumbled to the floor earlier in the play.

“I’ve never really done that before,” Hayward said. “It was just one of those moments.”

Hayward had more than his fair share of notable moments against James, particularly on the defensive end. James struggled to move, much less score, against Hayward’s sliding feet and active hands. Every point James scored with Hayward on him, he had to earn.

James’ final line (31 points, 8-of-18 from the floor, 12-of-12 from the line) belies how many times he couldn’t seem to create leverage against Hayward in the low post, most notably with less than half a minute left in the game and the Cavs desperate for a score. It merely hints at the magnitude of Hayward’s chase-down block on James, the reigning king of the chase-down, with 1:25 remaining in the first half.

And it doesn’t say all that much about Hayward’s dunk on the other end of that very same sequence.

Or about the times he slipped by James on the way to the cup. On this night, at least, Hayward proved superior (in spurts) to James in more than just League of Legends.

To be sure, Hayward didn’t score as many points as James—his 21 tied for the Jazz team lead with Derrick Favors—but he did drop more dimes (seven) than LeBron (four), have a hand in James’ four turnovers and make life difficult all around for the best basketball player on planet Earth.

But this night wasn’t about what James didn’t do; frankly, he did everything he could to keep the Cavs in the game, including a preposterous three from the deep corner with 13 seconds left.

Rather, it was about what Hayward did do, which was make plays for his team and put Utah on his back—just like max contract-types are supposed to.

This was hardly the first time this season Hayward looked like someone who should be earning $14.746 million (compared to his peers, anyway). In fact, Hayward’s standout showing against Cleveland was his third in as many games for the Jazz.

On Monday, he torched the Los Angeles Clippers for a season-high 27 points, on 10-of-19 shooting, with seven boards and eight assists in what was a six-point loss for the Jazz. Two nights prior, Hayward led Utah to a 27-point stomping of the Phoenix Suns with 24 points and 10 rebounds—the sixth 20-10 game of Hayward’s burgeoning career.

And, frankly, his final tally from an 18-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks two nights before that (16 points, six assists, four rebounds) was pretty good, too.

At this point, Hayward appears to be pairing top-notch production and pivotal playmaking at a capacity that’s to be expected of someone in his tax bracket. The Jazz’s 2-3 record is nothing to write home about, but Hayward’s efforts therein certainly are.

Not that Hayward is the only Salt Lake City resident who’s taken that all-important next step. Derrick Favors, who got paid last fall, and Enes Kanter, who’ll have to wait for his windfall next summer, combined for 39 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks and stifling defense on Kevin Love (2-of-10 from the field), with a little help from combine champion Rudy Gobert (four rebounds, three blocks).

Alec Burks, proud owner of a $42 million extension, knocked down four massive free throws in the final 17 seconds. Trevor Booker, who’s making a modest $5 million as part of a two-year pact with the Jazz, stepped up with a key three at the 3:11 mark of the fourth quarter.

In short, the Jazz’s triumph over the fumbling, unformed Cavs—whose own recent rookie extendee (Kyrie Irving) led all scorers with 34 points, but failed to register a single assist—was a showcase for all of its improved constituents.

Not to mention Dante Exum’s five dimes off the bench or Rodney Hood’s two threes. Someday, those guys could be channeling their inner Rod Tidwell after developing to the extent that Utah’s core has.

To be sure, these guys all have a long way to go, Hayward included. They let slip a 16-point third-quarter cushion, allowing the Cavs to take their first short-lived lead of the evening on an acrobatic transition layup by Irving at the 5:24 mark of the final frame.

Fortunately, Hayward was there to bail them all out with a buzzer-beater that staved off overtime against a talented Cleveland team that had some semblance of momentum on its side.

It’s moments like this one that have (and will) show that Hayward’s shiny new pact may well be not only the Jazz’s biggest expenditure, but also their best.

 

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WATCH: Kobe makes circus shot, shows he still has it

Kobe Bryant is clearly in midseason form as he continues to make highlight-reel plays game after game.
Saturday night’s game against the Warriors was no different. With the Lakers trailing late in the second quarter, 59-51, Bryant did all he could to keep his team in the game with an insanely-difficult reverse layup.
He received the ball at the top of the three-point arc and was met by Shaun Livingston. Bryant then blew by him and drove to the basket, where he was then fouled by Festus Ezeli.
But it didn’t matter. Kobe still managed to get off a ridiculous circus shot, going up and under with a reverse layup attempt. The ball[...]

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Greg Monroe’s Bench Role Shows Stan Van Gundy Pulling Right Strings for Pistons

Perception about starting roles seems to vary around the NBA, and we have yet to figure out exactly how Greg Monroe feels about coming off the bench. 

That will come in due time, but for now, Detroit Pistons fans can take solace in the fact that Stan Van Gundy is continuing to pull all of the right strings for his new organization. 

After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope practiced for the first time since his knee injury two weeks ago, it appears it’ll take something unlikely to keep him from the first five, along with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Kyle Singler,” reports Vincent Goodwill Jr. for The Detroit News

Monroe will be out of the lineup entirely due to a two-game suspension at the start of the year, but there’s no guarantee he breaks back into the starting lineup when he returns. In fact, it seems rather unlikely, especially with Goodwill explaining that Van Gundy will largely use the Monroe-Josh Smith-Andre Drummond troika for situational matchup advantages. 

Though it’s worth noting that nothing is guaranteed, and Monroe could very well assume the spot in the starting five he occupied last season as soon as he’s eligible to play, this early leaning is the right one. 

Last year, the Pistons were a mess. A talented mess, but a mess nonetheless, as the roster had so many non-complementary pieces and ended up failing to meet even the most modest expectations. Players who shouldn’t be shooting lofted up perimeter jumpers, while the frontcourt trio of Monroe, Drummond and Smith was rarely put into a position that would lead toward success. 

But that no longer seems to be the case. 

Already, we’ve seen three huge signs that Van Gundy is making the proper moves and steering the Pistons back into strong positioning for postseason contention. 

First, the man with two roles—head coach and president of basketball operations—used the money he had at his disposal to completely alter the team’s shooting ability. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Pistons took 1,580 shots from behind the three-point arc during the 2013-14 campaign, which left them ahead of only eight teams throughout the Association. At the same time, they shot just 32.1 percent from downtown, a mark better than the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers but absolutely no one else. 

But during the summer, in came a host of players capable of stretching out a defense: Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler, Cartier Martin and an improved Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (if you want to count him as a new addition). Meeks‘ stress fracture in his back dampens a bit of the enthusiasm, but it remains clear this team has improved on the perimeter. 

Next up was getting everyone to play to their strengths. Yes, we’re largely talking about Josh Smith here. 

After putting up putrid shooting numbers throughout the 2013-14 season, Smith actually played intelligent basketball under Van Gundy’s supervision during the exhibition season. Per RealGm.com, the forward took only seven triples in just as many preseason games, and he made three of them, good for a 42.9 percent clip that helped create some positive production. 

Thus far, Van Gundy’s track record at the helm is quite stellar, not that there should have been negative expectations after the work he did earlier in his coaching career with the Orlando Magic. But now comes the most controversial move of all—potentially bringing Monroe off the pine, something the man Pistons fans call “Moose” has done only 32 times in his 309 professional appearances. And each of those came during his rookie season. 

It’s always a risky endeavor, simply because such a move can so often be viewed as a demotion. Opinions tend to vary, with some players accepting the role and viewing it as a chance to be more important to their teams while others can’t allow their egos to take such a blow. 

To me, it really don’t even matter,” the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s Kendrick Perkins said of the uncertainty about his position in the starting lineup, via NewsOK.com’s Anthony Slater. “I just want an opportunity to play, that’s it. Since I’ve been here, the only thing I’ve been trying to embrace on the whole organization and the young guys is just how to win. Since I’ve been here, that’s all I’ve been doing.”

Dion Waiters does not agree. 

I want to start and I believe that I should at the two,” the Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com. Even though he’d be able to shoot more and lead the second unit’s offensive exploits rather than sharing the rock with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and LeBron James, there’s too much of a stigma associated with coming off the bench and not being on the court for the opening tip. 

To his credit, Monroe seems to come down on the Perkins side of the spectrum thus far, based on what he told reporters early in the preseason: 

I don’t have to handle it, I just have to play. That’s not going to change, whether I start or whether I come off the bench, that’s not going to change the way I play. So, you guys might worry about it, but all I’m focused on is being on the court. If you have questions about that, you’re going to have to ask [Van Gundy], he makes the decisions. But other than that, I’m just going to play.

That’s how he should feel. 

If he starts, he can contribute. But he can do so off the bench as well, and he’d be even more important as the leader of the second unit, one that’s in need of some offensive production. 

“There’s something to be said for having a talented sixth man who could put up those kind of numbers this season,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb while arguing that this particular big man should be the one coming off the bench. “It’s not a matter of punishing Monroe for taking that qualifying offer. It’s about doing what’s best for the franchise—both now and in the near future.”

During the preseason, Monroe has found success both off the pine and when starting, though it’s not about what he’s done in such a small sample. It’s about making the best of a situation that has the potential to make a team better. 

Smith, Monroe and Drummond cannot all play together except in certain situations when excessive size is advantageous. Putting the whole trio on the floor forces Smith to play from the perimeter, and few players are able to work with their biggest strengths.

In fact, Basketball-Reference.com shows that this three-man pairing was outscored by seven points per 100 possessions, which was an absolutely putrid mark. You can see that by looking at where it ranks for each player among their 10 most-used lineups in 2013-14, as well as how it compares to their overall average point differential during the same span: 

  • Greg Monroe (minus-3.5 average): 10th out of 10 lineups
  • Josh Smith (minus-3.8 average): 10th out of 10 lineups
  • Andre Drummond (minus-4.2 average): 10th out of 10 lineups

There’s basically no justification for letting that group keep stepping onto the court together. Something has to change, as each member was at his worst when surrounded by the other two players. 

While Smith needs to be at the 4 and Drummond is solely a 5, Monroe has the ability to switch between frontcourt positions. That versatility allows him to suit up alongside either of the other two bigs, and he can do exactly that while leading the second unit from center when both starters need a rest. He’s the obvious choice if Van Gundy truly wants to make a change, which he should. 

It just makes sense. That’s all there is to it. 

Van Gundy could easily backtrack on this plan and start all three of the aforementioned players for the majority of the season, but his willingness to switch things up and play the personnel at his disposal in the best manner possible speaks volumes about his potential effectiveness with the Pistons. 

Thus far, he’s made one positive decision after another. Monroe coming off the bench would just add to the growing list. 

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Paul George Shows Mobility in 1-on-1 Game with His Dog

Just a few months after suffering a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA scrimmage, Indiana Pacers star Paul George is already working on getting back on the court. 

On Monday, we saw a video of George shooting jumpers after practice. One day later, the Pacers forward shared a video of himself playing a game of one-on-one.

George’s opponent? His dog, King.

King proved to be a strong ball-hound, but George was just too much for the dog to handle. 

[Paul George]

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