Month: January 2022

Western Notes: Murray, Pelicans, Snyder, Walker

Spurs guard Dejounte Murray deserves credit for the team’s impressive road win over Milwaukee on Saturday, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Murray finished with 23 points, five rebounds and nine assists in 37 minutes, also registering three steals.

“He was great,” head coach Gregg Popovich said of Murray. “His defense is not going to be noticed as much as offense, but he got us in situations where people were getting the ball and scoring. He scored. He disrupts at the defensive end. He played a heck of an all-around game.”

Murray, 25, was drafted by the team No. 29 overall in 2016. He’s averaged an impressive 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists through the club’s first six games, shooting 43% from the floor.

There’s more around the Western Conference tonight:

  • The Pelicans are facing a familiar start to the season, Christian Clark of NOLA.com writes. Zion Williamson has yet to play due to injury, leading New Orleans to start the season with a 1-6 record. On top of that, Nickeil Alexander-Walker is dealing with some shooting struggles, making 15 of 57 three-pointers thus far. “Everyone just tells me to keep shooting,” Alexander-Walker said on Thursday. “They trust me to take those shots. Last night [against Atlanta], Zion told me those are shots I need to take. It takes pressure off (Brandon Ingram). It’s comforting to hear they want me to keep shooting even though I haven’t been making shots. To know they have faith in me.”
  • Jazz coach Quin Snyder believes the NBA’s focus on changing its foul rules has unintentionally allowed defenders to be more physical, according to Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter links). The league has made it harder for offensive players to initiate fouls on shots and drives this season. “I don’t think there’s supposed to be increased physicality,” Snyder said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of game we want.”
  • Spurs guard Lonnie Walker has learned from what he calls “The University of Pop,” Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Referencing Gregg Popovich, Walker acknowledged he missed the final three years of college and discussed what he’s learned from the Spurs’ head coach so far.

Pacific Notes: Green, Lue, Clippers, Warriors

Warriors star Draymond Green believes the game is more enjoyable to play since the NBA changed its foul rules, Nick Friedell of ESPN.com writes. The league has made it harder for offensive players to get to the foul line by going out of their way to initiate contact.

“You can 100 percent feel it,” Green said. “Because you don’t have guys doing the garbage to try and draw fouls anymore. I think this game was turning into who can draw the most fouls? Nobody wants to watch that and you definitely don’t want to play in a game like that. So you can feel the difference out there for sure. It’s just more pure basketball and that’s great for our game.”

Players such as Brooklyn’s James Harden are impacted by this sudden change. Throughout his career, Harden has been successful at driving and manipulating his defender for a foul, hooking his arms in a clever way or getting tangled up to earn free throws. Green also mentioned how much more enjoyable the game is to watch.

“Can I also say how satisfying it’s been to watch the game of basketball without all those bulls–t calls,” Green said. “I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to curse in interviews, right? Can I say how satisfying it is to watch the game without all those terrible calls. Guys cheating the game and grabbing guys and getting the foul. I’ve been really enjoying watching basketball this year.

“I kind of had stopped watching the NBA a bit because it was just too flailing and flopping and guys cheating the game and getting free throws. So I think that’s been great. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that because I think that’s been fantastic.”

Here are some other notes from the Pacific:

  • Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue is considering making lineup changes to boost his team’s offense, Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register writes. Los Angeles has opened the season with just a 1-4 record. “If you’re playing well and you’re getting the shots you want to get and you’re not making them, does that call for change?” Lue asked. “That’s the biggest thing you go back and forth with. Just continuing to mess with the rotations and try to take away those stints where we go four, five, six minutes without scoring when PG is off the floor. We have to do something about that. So we’ve got something we’ll try tomorrow.”
  • Jonathan Amey Jr., a security guard with the Warriors, recently got the chance to try out for the team’s G League affiliate, as relayed by NBC Sports. Although Amey didn’t make the team, his effort was applauded by multiple Warriors players. “I know he didn’t make the team,” Kevon Looney said, “but he went out there and tried, that’s all you could ask for.”

New York Notes: Gibson, Aldridge, Nets, Thibodeau

Knicks veteran Taj Gibson understands that his role will change when Nerlens Noel eventually returns from a knee injury, Peter Botte of the New York Post writes.

Gibson has played a key role in New York’s 5-1 start to the season, providing frontcourt depth in Noel’s absence. Noel started in 41 of 64 games last season and helped the Knicks reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

“Right now I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team,” Gibson said. “When Nerls comes back, I’m gonna support him. That’s my young boy and I’m extremely happy because I know the work he puts in on a daily basis, and our big-man group, we work together. I’m happy to see everybody get some reps because I’m old enough.

“Whatever Thibs need me to do, the coaching staff, I just enjoy playing the game and being on this team.”

There’s more out of New York today:

  • Speaking of Gibson, the 36-year-old is enjoying a rebirth with the Knicks as a first-time father, Steve Popper of Newsday writes. Gibson is in his 13th NBA season, carrying 848 games of experience.
  • Brian Lewis of the New York Post examines whether Nets big man LaMarcus Aldridge could become a reliable third scoring option for the team. Aldridge has averaged 12 points in 20 minutes per game, and with Kyrie Irving still out, Brooklyn will need continued production from the veteran.
  • Knicks players and head coach Tom Thibodeau value the privilege of dining together, Steve Popper writes in a separate article for Newsday. Team coaches, staff and players came together for a dinner after the team’s 104-103 victory over Chicago on Thursday, building chemistry off the court, Popper writes.

Community Shootaround: Strong Starts

The BullsKnicks, Warriors, Heat and Wizards are tied for the league’s best record (5-1) entering the final night of October, having opened the season on a strong note.

Chicago is sporting a new core that includes Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic in the starting lineup — its only loss came against the Knicks on Thursday in a one-point game.

New York is looking to build on its success from last season after adding Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to a battle-tested core. Golden State has seen strong performances from Stephen Curry (28.7 points per game), plus two backcourt pieces in Damion Lee and Jordan Poole (combined 28.2 points per game).

The two Southeast Division teams on the list, Miami and Washington, are enjoying win streaks of four and three games, respectively. The clubs have played well despite dealing with various absences, including Bam Adebayo (knee) and Daniel Gafford (quad) on Friday.

The million-dollar question is simple: which of these teams are most likely to sustain a high level of success? Chicago and Washington have relatively new cores, while Miami and Golden State have veterans and coaches with valuable championship experience. New York remains a hungry wild card.

From a long-term perspective, the Heat and Warriors are still waiting for Victor Oladipo and Klay Thompson to return from their injuries. Chicago has also lost second-year forward Patrick Williams, who’s expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season with a dislocated wrist.

We want to know what you think. Which of these teams are more likely to succeed than others? Is it still too early in the season to draw any serious conclusions? Take to the comments section below!

Central Notes: LeVert, Cade, Bulls, Williams, White

Pacers swingman Caris LeVert made his season debut on Saturday after a stress fracture sidelined him during training camp. LeVert learned a lot from the way he was thrown into the deep end last season following his return from a kidney surgery in March 2021, writes Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. After just one post-surgery practice, the Pacers’ prior regime under embattled former head coach Nate Bjorkgren had LeVert play for 27 minutes of game action. LeVert had not yet communicated to the team that he was ready to play.

“I’m like, ‘Damn, OK, thrown right into it,” LeVert said of his prior experience. This season, under new head coach Rick Carlisle, the Pacers took a more measured approach with LeVert’s return from the stress fracture.

LeVert, the club’s starting small forward, suited up for Indiana’s seventh game of the young season, a 97-94 loss to the Raptors. Across 16 minutes of action, the 27-year-old LeVert poured in 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. Despite losing the game, the 1-6 Pacers must be grateful to have gained LeVert following the injury layoff.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • No. 1 Pistons draft pick Cade Cunningham is looking forward to making his own mark in the NBA, after several of his fellow 2021 rookies have already made an impact on the young NBA season, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports“My class is full of big-time talent,” Cunningham said. “So I think it kind of motivates me more to be more of myself. I’m used to us pushing each other to be better. Now I’m excited to get my chance to do my thing.” In his NBA debut, a 110-103 victory over the Magic, Cunningham made just one field goal for two points. The 6’8″ guard out of Oklahoma State also logged seven rebounds, two assists and one block in 19 minutes of action.
  • After holding on for a solid 107-99 home court victory against the previously-undefeated Jazz last night, the 5-1 Bulls appear to be for real. The club, featuring 10 new players this season, is showcasing a new on-court persona, predicated around a fast pace and willingness to take free throws, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago“This, from an identity standpoint, is how we want to play,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the victory. “I thought this was one of our better games from start to finish. For the most part, the consistency was there for how we need to play.” The club’s surprisingly-great defense held Utah to just 38% shooting from the field while making them cough up the ball for 20 turnovers.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic posits that the Bulls are looking like one of the better teams in the league during this young season after the Jazz win. Mayberry highlights Chicago’s stellar, overpowering defense, noting that the Jazz had an awful 96.1 offensive rating on the night. Mayberry adds that reserves Derrick Jones Jr. and Tony Bradley exhibited plenty of defensive promise with their extended rotational minutes Saturday.
  • Though the Bulls could have enough depth this season to weather the injury absences of third-year guard Coby White and second-year forward Patrick Williams, both lottery selections, the team is missing out on key development windows for its two young players, opines Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Cowley says that White is scheduled to have the condition of his injured shoulder assessed in November, and his return to the Bulls could happen as late as January. Williams could miss the whole season with a wrist injury that will require surgery. “I think we’ve got to as best we can organizationally help those guys get back and utilize this time as best they can,’’ head coach Billy Donovan said of dealing with the absences of White and Williams. “But it’s certainly not the most ideal situation for their development.’’

Southeast Notes: Hawks, Hornets, Riley, Butler

The 3-3 Hawks have yet to recapture the momentum that propelled them to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, writes Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. With an intimidating schedule coming up in which Atlanta will play several 2021 playoff teams, Kirschner offers his thoughts on how the club can adjust.

While forwards Cam Reddish and John Collins have exhibited plenty of growth, other key Hawks players have struggled a bit. Point guard Trae Young is struggling to adjust to the league’s new free throw rules, while shooting guard Kevin Huerter is struggling to connect from deep.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets have already enjoyed a promising start to the 2021/22 season, writes Roderick Boone of the Charlotte Observer. New additions Ish Smith and Kelly Oubre have fit in well thus far, with Oubre connecting on a solid 35.7% of his three-point looks. 2022 restricted free agent forward Miles Bridges has taken his scoring to borderline All-Star heights, and Boone is pegging his future contract in the $100MM vicinity. When it comes to perimeter depth, Boone observes that Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, and Nick Richards are also improving.
  • The hot start of the Heat has Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel wondering if team president Pat Riley has finally nailed the club’s supporting lineup around All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The club has wholly recalibrated its frontcourt depth around Adebayo, and the early results have paid dividends thus far. The addition of former Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry has made a huge defensive impact on Miami, though his offense is struggling so far. Sixth man Tyler Herro also appears to have taken a leap in his third season.
  • Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler has thrived alongside new addition Kyle Lowry. Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald wonders if Butler has been newly maximized as a player alongside the former six-time All-Star point guard.

Northwest Notes: Simons, Conley, Azubuike, Z. Wade

Trail Blazers forward Anfernee Simons has really started to blossom during his fourth year, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic.

A lot of Simons’ improvement appears to be a credit to his commitment to offseason workouts with longtime trainer Phil Beckner. One of Portland’s many undersized guards, Simons is averaging career highs of 12.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG and 22.8 MPG through his first five games during the 2021/22 season.

“Usually, he would train with me here and there,” Beckner said. “And at the start of the summer he wanted to know where I was going to be. I told him either Phoenix or Portland. So I asked him where he was going to be. His answer: ‘Wherever you are at.”’

“Everybody kept telling me, ‘My time is coming. My time is coming …’ and I wanted to be prepared,” Simons said. “New coach, new opportunity, and I wanted to be prepared as much as possible to show I’m ready for it. So that was my whole thing this summer: follow Phil around and get better each day.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • 34-year-old veteran Jazz point guard Mike Conley sat out his first game of the season yesterday, a 107-99 loss to the Bulls in which the Jazz desperately could have used Conley’s leadership, in a conscientious load management decision from head coach Quin SnyderEric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune details Utah’s thinking. “It’s more of a holistic decision, and one that we think is the best for our team and for Mike,” Snyder said. “I think, given the choice, he’d try to play every back-to-back. But I’m not gonna let him do that.” Conley is set to return tonight against the Bucks, per Jazz.com.
  • Newly-installed Jazz general manager Justin Zanik addressed the decision to pick up the team’s 2022/23 option on intriguing second-year center Udoka Azubuike, writes Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. “I was very happy with him in the summer and the work that he’s done,” Zanik said. “It’s just really hard to be in game-type shape when you’re not playing games.” Azubuike appeared in just 15 contests as a rookie.
  • 19-year-old rookie guard Zaire Wade, selected with the tenth pick in the NBA G League draft by the Salt Lake City Stars, G League affiliate to the Jazz, acknowledged grappling with detractors in his entrance to the pro ranks, writes Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune. His father, future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade, is a part-owner of the Jazz. “I think a lot of people think that I’m not a hard-working kid and things get handed to me,” Zaire said. “Nothing’s handed to me. Coach said he noticed after the first day I stepped here, I’m just working hard trying to earn everything myself. I’m trying to make a name for myself.”

Knicks Notes: Barrett, Walker, Fournier, Robinson

Zion Williamson was the top prize in the 2019 draft, but the Knicks should be grateful they wound up with RJ Barrett instead, writes Adam Zagoria of Forbes. Williamson, who is recovering from offseason foot surgery, watched Saturday night as his former college teammate scored a career-high 35 points in New York’s victory over the Pelicans. Forbes notes that in their two-plus seasons in the NBA, Barrett has played in 134 games compared to Williamson’s 85.

“I saw him after the game,’’ Barrett said, per Marc Berman of The New York Post. “He just said he was happy for me, stuff like that. But it’s cool. I can’t wait till he gets back out there on the court. It’s cool to just see him there, we don’t see each other often anymore because of the schedules.’’

There’s more from New York:

  • Kemba Walker is playing without the knee pain that limited him to 43 games last season, Berman details in a separate story. While Walker can’t beat defenders to the rim like he used to, he seems to have regained his shooting touch, connecting on 50% of his attempts from the field through six games after hitting just 42% a year ago. “This is the best I’ve felt in a very long time,’’ he said. “My days consist of me taking care of myself. I don’t mean that when I’m in the facility with the trainers. I mean that when I’m home. When I’m in my room, I’m taking care of my knee. That’s like my whole day. There’s a lot of preparation leading up to these games for me.’’
  • The Knicks are fans of the NBA’s emphasis on not calling fouls on defensive players when shooters jump into them, per Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. While some teams have struggled to adapt, Evan Fournier believes the league is moving in the right direction. “It was actually very frustrating for me. For years — I don’t like to compare anything — but coming from Europe we have guys that aren’t as physical, aren’t as athletic, and yet the game is more physical there,” Fournier said. “So as a rookie, I kept fouling and fouling and fouling. And I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I’m skinny. I’m not that strong. And I think the league did a great job. We have to adjust. As a fan, I think it’s better. You don’t want to see guys trying to trick referees all the time.”
  • Mitchell Robinson had two serious injuries last season, so he understands what Bulls forward Patrick Williams is going through, Bondy adds in a separate piece. Williams suffered torn ligaments in his left wrist after Robinson’s flagrant foul this week, and Robinson felt the need to defend himself against accusations on social media. “I was just reading stuff and people trying to make it seem like it was something that it’s not, which that’s what people want to do,” Robinson said.  “I went down myself. I know the pain. I know what it is. So when somebody goes down, I feel what they feel. I went through two injuries back-to-back. That’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Central Notes: Cunningham, LeVert, Williams, Green

Cade Cunningham only scored two points in his NBA debut Saturday night, but he was happy to finally be on the court, writes Eric Woodyard of ESPN. A sprained ankle he suffered in training camp forced the overall No. 1 pick to miss the entire preseason and the Pistons‘ first four games.

“I think it was good. I feel like coming in, just being able to make some plays off the ball, get some rebounds. I felt like I was solid defensively,” he said. “And, I mean those are the points that I really wanted to come out and just prove to myself that my ankle was straight and that I could move, guard and do everything else. So, I got all the jitters out now and now I can just go play free.”

Because of lingering concerns about the ankle, Cunningham is beginning his NBA career under a restriction of 20 to 25 minutes per night. He played 18 minutes Saturday, recording seven rebounds and two assists while shooting just 1-of-8 from the field as Detroit picked up its first win of the season.

“I try to keep my energy in the right place,” Cunningham said. “I try to keep my head in the right place and so, my team, they know what they expect out of me, I know what I expect out of me, so that’s all that’s really mattering to me. People can say whatever they want, outside of that, but I probably won’t hear it.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Also making his season debut Saturday was Pacers swingman Caris LeVert, who suffered a stress fracture in his back during training camp, notes Akeem Glaspie of The Indianapolis Star. LeVert, who is dealing with a minutes restriction too, made an impact while he was on the court, scoring 15 points in 15 minutes. “The hope is that there wouldn’t be a long period where there’s a restriction but right now it’s just really hard to say, it’s really impossible to say,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Would’ve been great to have him in the second half but that just wasn’t in the cards.”
  • The Bulls will take steps not to lose an entire year of development for Patrick Williams, who will have surgery today to repair torn ligaments in his left wrist, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘He’s probably going to lose a significant amount of muscle mass in his upper body because he’s not going to be able to lift or do anything from that standpoint,” coach Billy Donovan said. ‘‘The more we can keep him engaged with our team (the better) because what happens is the season is going on, and these games are coming and coming and coming, and he can feel like he’s over here on an island.’’
  • Donovan tabbed Javonte Green to fill the open spot in the Bulls‘ starting lineup, just as he did when Williams had an ankle injury during the preseason, Cowley adds. Donovan explained that Green’s energy and versatility on defense make him a good fit with the team’s other starters.

Wizards Notes: Beal, Unseld, Gafford, Hachimura

One of the benefits of the Wizards‘ fast start is showing Bradley Beal that he can be part of a winning team in Washington, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. At 5-1, the Wizards are tied for the best record in the league after beating the Celtics in double overtime Saturday. Beal, who has been the subject of trade speculation for years, sounds as committed as ever to remaining with the franchise.

“I always say I want to win. I want to be productive and I want to win in D.C.,” he said. “We’ve done that, obviously, so far. Granted, we’re only scratching the surface.”

Washington shook up its roster over the offseason, trading Russell Westbrook to the Lakers in exchange for three players and signing Spencer Dinwiddie in free agency. The Wizards have a deeper team than they’ve fielded for several years and could be solidly in the playoff mix all season. With Beal eligible for an extension but also on the brink of free agency, it’s a good time for the franchise to be off to its best start in 16 years.

“It feels amazing, man. I tell these guys all the time, they can be a part of a lot of history over here,” Beal said. “Just from the way we’ve been doing things to the opportunity we have to create and mold our culture. We always talk about what a culture is and I always emphasize at the beginning of the year, it’s what we make it.”

There’s more from Washington:

  • One of the connections to the Wizards’ last 5-1 start is new head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who was in his first year as an assistant with that 2005/06 team, Hughes adds. “That’s actually a stat I didn’t know,” Unseld said. “It’s great. There’s hopefully a lot of firsts this year.”
  • Unseld had good news about center Daniel Gafford, who suffered a right quad contusion on Wednesday, Hughes adds in a separate story“He’s much better. Still a bit tender. He got him right in the sweet spot,” Unseld said before Saturday’s game. “He’ll be out tonight, I think it’s more give him another day, day and a half to get his strength back. He got treated this morning and was moving a lot better.”
  • There’s still no clarity on Rui Hachimura, who was given a leave of absence for personal reasons in September, according to Quinton Mayo of Substack. Multiple sources tell Mayo that Hachimura hasn’t been in the practice facility at the same time as his teammates since the leave began.