First Cup: Friday

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
4:54
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Only one thing could have sent the start of this Thunder season spiraling from bad to worse, and given the team’s recent string of misfortune maybe we shouldn’t even be surprised that it actually happened. But in the second game? You’ve got to be kidding. Russell Westbrook joined the comically-long list of injured Thunder players when he left Thursday’s 93-90 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a right hand injury. The severity of the injury is unknown, but after receiving medical attention in the locker room Westbrook returned to the bench and appeared to be in good spirits as he watched most of the second half with his right hand wrapped. The Thunder was relying on its electric point guard to captain its injury-riddled roster for at least the first month of the season. Now, it’s anyone’s guess how soon Westbrook will be back. Westbrook will be re-evaluated Friday in Oklahoma City. He joins Kevin Durant (foot), Reggie Jackson (ankle), Jeremy Lamb (back), Mitch McGary (foot), Anthony Morrow (knee) and Grant Jerrett (ankle) on the injury list.
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The Thunder’s preseason nightmare has turned into a regular-season horror story. Already ravaged by the most severe of injury bugs, OKC was dealt another crippling blow on Thursday night. Late in the second quarter of the Thunder’s loss to the Clippers, Russell Westbrook fractured the second metacarpal in his right hand. He will be re-evaluated by the team on Friday.
  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: As for the new “Be Relentless” advertising campaign, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it fits the Clippers perfectly. The new owner and new beginning comes with much higher expectations. Sterling wasn’t just the Clippers’ biggest curse over the years, he was also their crutch. When in doubt, blame the inept owner. That’s all changed under Ballmer. And that raises the Clipper bar considerably. Be relentless, indeed. “I think for us, and I’m not trying to play on the word or the slogan or whatever it is. We have to be relentless in the season.” Rivers said. “I think when you’re trying to, especially in this conference, when you’re trying to establish yourself you have to attack the season through the season. You can’t have a lot of bad nights or you’ll lose the game. And it will come back and haunt you later.” At least now the Clippers are responsible for their own fate. Sterling is long gone, their biggest curse and greatest crutch is no longer around to screw things up or be the excuse for the failures. You get the idea the Clippers won’t be needing many excuses from here on out, though.
  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: LeBron James had a very difficult night, making only five of 15 shots for 17 points with a stunning eight turnovers. After a strong start, with off-the-ball movement that was crisp and purposeful, the Cavs overpassed (seven times on one possession after the ball was already in the paint, ending in a turnover), defended without vim, and often looked like a team that had only played together for a few weeks. This is of course exactly what they are. It will take an adjustment period, both for the big board and for play execution to even remotely match expectations. ... Thursday night was supposed to have been for the fans, whose fervor James respects even more after he rekindled it. James is back for one ring here, 50 years in the pursuit and counting, one worth more to the city and to his legacy than any sought in the fantasy movies by hobbits and elves. "Obviously it was a special night, not only for myself, but for everybody. I'm glad it was great," said James. "But I'm also glad it's over." "Play the game, not the occasion," new coach Blatt said he told his team before the game. Not Thursday night. The Cavs lost the homecoming game to a team closer to the Washington Generals than a contender.
  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: LeBron James could not have played any worse, from the opening tap to the final buzzer. And this was his homecoming, no less, a day James matter-of-factly called “probably one of the biggest sporting events that is up there ever.” If you say so, LeBron. But if you’re the one hyping the game like a boxing promoter, you’d better come out flying. James came out flat and stayed flat as Derek Fisher recorded his first career coaching victory in the Knicks’ surprising 95-90 win over the Cavaliers Thursday night. “It was a huge night,” James said afterward at his locker. “It was exciting for the fans, exciting for the city. Now we can just play basketball.” It was an exercise in futility against a beaten-down Knicks team that had been embarrassed 24 hours earlier in their season opener against the Chicago Bulls. James may never get another chance to make a second impression. In his first game back in a Cavs uniform, James looks as bad as he did in his last game in one. Funny thing is, his night looked an awful lot like the last biggest-ever sporting event in Cleveland. That was in 2010 against the Boston Celtics when James stood passively in the corner as the Cavs’ season was slipping away. That defining performance was James’ final home game in a Cavs uniform until Thursday, a night all of Ohio had been waiting for since LeBron announced he was taking his talents to South Beach. Anyone have any idea when that talent is being shipped back?
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Dan DeVos was talking about his father, Magic owner Rich DeVos, 88, before the club's 105-98 home-opening loss Thursday night to the Washington Wizards. He said Rich's health is good. It might even better than his team's. "He's got a bruise on his leg, but he's tough," Dan said. "You know Dad: He won't give up." The Magic are going to need to be as resilient as their owner this season. And they maybe need to ask for help from a higher authority if they keep turning over the ball every three seconds. ... Orlando also is being ignored to an extent in Orlando. There were plenty of empty seats at Amway Center, not surprisingly, given the product in progress. Patrons have seen lousy basketball the past two seasons without Dwight Howard. "We fought back. It's a learning process," Vucevic said. "We had a lot of those the past two years." More are ahead. The question is whether the Magic can grow to be as tough and resilient as their owner.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: When John Wall orchestrates a masterful floor game, with 30 points, 12 assists and just two turnovers, this is a 50-win team. Their offense stalled in the fourth quarter as they tried to run out the clock rather than put away Orlando. But Wall's ball security has the Wizards starting the season averaging just 13 turnovers per game. They didn't make shots for a while, but they didn't create easy buckets for the opponent by giving the ball away. The defense still needs work. The Magic are far from an elite team and made 37 of 72 shots overall, or 51.4 percent.
  • Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: This is all new to Flip Saunders. Usually, a coach wants to ride his starters for as long as he can. He often has a sixth man, and sometimes a seventh man, that he really trusts. Last year, Minnesota's bench was horrid. Now you can't tell the starters from the subs. "That's a luxury a coach has, but it's tough," Saunders said. "Because as coach, when you work with these guys every day, you work with them, you have demands of them, the reward is to play in games. When you can't play them as much as you'd like to, or they'd like, it's tough." Yes, and there eventually could be some strife when a veteran or two starts squawking. "Some guys didn't play," Flip noted. "Chase (Budinger) didn't play. Some guys, I know, are not playing as many minutes as they want. And a lot of times you go in there and guys had their heads hanging. And we had no head-hangers. I think everybody knows what we're trying to do as a franchise." Give it time. But for right now, the Wolves' strength is in their numbers. And on Thursday night the mob ruled.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Despite the Pistons making a 19-point comeback against the young Minnesota Timberwolves on the back of a veteran player who's seen it all, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy seemed to direct all his ire toward a group that, in his words, "were willing to let the game go." The starting five of Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond allowed the Timberwolves to blow open a one-point game at halftime to 11 in the blink of an eye, while Jennings and Drummond started barking at the officials before the lead ballooned to 19 minutes later, after a 27-5 run. Van Gundy, clearly irked, pulled Jennings after a technical foul for D.J. Augustin and didn't turn his way again, either planting the seeds for a lineup change or trying to straighten Jennings out before the season goes along any further. ... Jennings, who played 20 minutes in the opener against Denver, played just 16 against Minnesota and tried his best to hide his disappointment. He asked the media members at his locker, "He didn't tell you why? He didn't tell you guys?" When someone replied Van Gundy said Augustin was playing better, Jennings quipped, "Then he should start and I'll be the backup, if that's the case. That's all I got."
  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: Big D it was not. At least, not for the Utah Jazz anyway. Since the very first day of training camp, new coach Quin Snyder has put a premium on getting stops, running his young team through hours of drills and preaching the importance of the discipline of defense. But through two games, both losses for the Jazz, the effort hasn’t been there when it matters. "I don’t want to make any kind of sweeping statement about trends, but yeah, I’m concerned," Snyder said after the Jazz’s 120-102 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. "You’re concerned if you play bad defense for one game, so two games ..." Well, that’s the reality for the 0-2 Utah Jazz right now. On opening night, the Jazz watched the Houston Rockets shoot 52 percent from the floor. On Thursday, the Mavericks shot 55 percent.
  • Gil Lebreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: On the one hand, you could say that sending the Utah Jazz here, after playing in Houston only 24 hours ago, was the Mavericks’ easiest layup of the night. But, no, there actually turned out to be lots of easy layups and head-rattling dunks for the Dallas Mavericks on this first night of their NBA home schedule. Coach Rick Carlisle attributed the offensive side of his team’s 120-102 victory Thursday to “good spacing,” and he was mostly right. More accurately, though, the Mavericks rained baskets on the outmanned Jazz both in close quarters and from distant corners. The Mavericks scored on their first nine trips down the floor, and the night’s tenor was set. With three minutes to play in the first half, Carlisle had already mostly cleared his bench, and the Mavericks were running away with things 65-35. Afterward, Carlisle graciously made public note of what the NBA schedule-makers did to Utah. “Hey, we played a team that was on the second night of a back-to-back,” Carlisle said. “They were tired.” The NBA returns the favor next week, he pointed out. “We have to play these guys again a week from tonight in Utah on the second night of a back-to-back,” Carlisle said. “And it’s always a meat grinder when you play them because they play so hard.” A meat grinder it was Thursday, but it was the Mavericks, talented and deep, who did the grinding.

The challenge in Cleveland

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
7:11
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Tom Haberstroh goes inside the numbers to show where LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and the Cavs need to be if they want to be true title contenders.

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The Chicago Bulls' new options

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
2:50
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
With size on defense and passing skill on offense, Pau Gasol multiplies the options for coach Tom Thibodeau. David Thorpe loves the possibilities this season for the Chicago Bulls.

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First Cup: Thursday

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
4:59
AM ET
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Marc Gasol's offseason work, with Spain in the World Cup and in preseason, is impossible to miss — he's noticeably slimmer and quicker than the sometimes lumbering presence seen last season when a knee injury interrupted his season and force him to play with a brace. He played with an assertiveness on offense and defense suggesting he's comfortable taking on the role of this team's unquestioned MVP, finishing with 32 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. There were a number of standout moments from Gasol, including a hustle steal in the first half leading to him driving and dunking in traffic. Near the end of the third quarter, he took the Timberwolves' promising young big man Gorgui Deng inside and taught him a lesson in classic back-to-the-basket post offense, and then opened the fourth quarter with a different move from his repertoire on Deng.
  • David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: On the quiet drive in, at the Biscayne Boulevard parking lot that charged $30 last year, the sign read $15 for the Heat's opening night. "The LeBron discount,'' said the attendant who took my money the previous decade. On the bayside concourse outside AmericanAirlines Arena, where there were portable bars and basketball hoops the last four years, Frank Trellas stood alone before the game. "So LeBron left? Why take the party, too?" Trellas said. What was this first night like? It was a night of basketball. Good basketball. Fun. Loud. Entertaining. Chris Bosh expanded his role on this first night. Dwyane Wade delivered timely points. Norris Cole had a career-high 23 points. The Heat beat Washington, 107-95. Opening-night fun. Basketball excitement. But it wasn't Broadway anymore. It wasn't Ringling. It wasn't sports as a social and global spectacle in the manner any night felt like the past four years with LeBron on the court. There will be a time to move on from these thoughts, and soon, but it hit you like a punch how different this first night felt. The party didn't just leave the concourse. It left town.
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: The largest comeback any Charlotte NBA team has ever made started with a storm of boos. There were 6 minutes, 43 seconds left in the third quarter. The Hornets had just gone down by 24 points in what was supposed to be a magical home season opener and the rebirth of the old teal and purple. But the players had not shown up for their own party. It would take them more than two hours to get there, although the entrance they ultimately made qualifies this as one of the most remarkable NBA games ever played in Charlotte. “I would have booed,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who eventually made the tying 3-pointer in regulation and the winning two-pointer in overtime in Charlotte’s spectacular 108-106 victory. ... I ran into Hornets owner Michael Jordan in the tunnel after the game. “Just the way you drew it up, right?” I asked. “No, no!” Jordan chortled, a big grin on his face. Fans left the arena shouting at each other in enthusiasm, ears ringing, just like it was 1989 all over again. Jefferson and Walker said the crowd was louder and better than the home ones for the playoff games against Miami last season. If only it could be like this every night, the Hornets to a man said afterward. It can’t be. But good gracious, what a start.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: The game marked the first of the Phil Jackson era for the Knicks, compete with the triangle offense and Derek Fisher as coach. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic made their NBA debuts, contributing solid minutes and a combined 17 points and 12 rebounds. But as with most things Bulls, the Rose story overshadowed all. "I wouldn't say my rust is knocked off, but it's getting there," Rose said. "I can't be content with how I'm performing. I have to put it behind me whether it's good or bad and make sure I stay consistent with my workouts. Physically, I feel good. I can't get caught up in (proving doubters wrong). I let my game speak for itself. I don't like to say too much about my haters. But you should be able to tell by the way that I work that I've been in the gym every day really working hard on my craft."
  • Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: On Wednesday night the Raptors embarked on one of the most highly anticipated beginnings in franchise history with a professional 109-102 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks, one of the long list of improved teams in the deeper-than-most-think Eastern Conference. There were 19,800 fans at Air Canada Centre convinced that only good things await – and not just for the 2014-15 season. The Raptors have been to the playoffs. They’ve had good years. But they’ve never had something that lasts. That builds. The chance is before them again. Not only are they a young, intact team with all their key pieces on under contract, they are coming along at a time when Canadian basketball is on the rise. Even as it appears that patriarch Steve Nash’s career is coming to an end, Andrew Wiggins’ is just beginning. There are 12 other Canadians on NBA rosters, more than any other country outside of the United States. The Raptors rise is both cause and effect. All that’s needed is for the franchise in the middle of the movement to, you know, win something. Anything. A playoff round for just the second time in their 20-year history would be a great start.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Danilo Gallinari missed everything about the game, from the jitters that accompanied ripping off his sweats before tipoff to the feel of basketball in his hands while elevating for a jump shot. He missed it all badly. But the Nuggets missed Gallo worse. It all went wrong for a Denver team on the rise when Gallinari went down in an ugly heap with a knee injury April 4, 2013. The Nuggets got upset by Golden State, which bounced them from the playoffs. Coach George Karl and franchise boss Josh Kroenke broke up in a contract dispute. Bad luck shadowed the franchise like a black cat. Nearly 19 months later, Gallinari finally made it back to the Pepsi Center court Wednesday night. The Nuggets beat Detroit 89-79 in their NBA season opener. Gallo, who scored seven points in 18 minutes against the Pistons, cannot fix everything that went wrong with the Nuggets. "Nobody in the league is thinking much about Denver. But it's always been that way about the Nuggets. We've always been the underdog. We've always been the team nobody talks about," Gallinari said.
  • Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star: It sure was. Just one game against an opponent that was more D-League than A-list. What does it mean? I asked Vogel. He knows more basketball than I do. Help me, Frank. What do I tell readers? What did this game mean? "I don't know that it means a lot," he said. "It's important for our guys to feel what it's like to win. It's going to be a work in progress but we've got to win games no matter who's on the court for us or who we're playing." The Pacers won this baby race. What to make of a win against the 76ers? No clue, but it beats the alternative. Because a loss to the 76ers, well, we'd know what to make of that.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Phoenix is point-guard central, but the NBA seems to have a quality point guard at nearly every turn. That makes it all the better for the Suns to have a perimeter defender like Eric Bledsoe, who was a difference maker defensively last season but still has more potential on that side. Bledsoe's injury absence helped prove his defensive worth last season, when the Suns gave up 100.5 points per game and 44.4-percent shooting in games he played and 104.9 points and 46.9-percent shooting when he was out injured. "I think I did a great job defensively in the preseason, so I'm just looking forward to it carrying over to the regular season," Bledsoe said. When the Suns traded for Bledsoe, General Manager Ryan McDonough talked about how he thought Bledsoe could someday lead the NBA in steals. Bledsoe does not disagree.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors finished up most of their offseason decision-making Wednesday, deciding on the futures of three young players while leaving open the negotiations on a contract extension with Klay Thompson. The team is expected to pick up the fourth-year player options on forward Harrison Barnes and reserve center Festus Ezeli and to decline the third-year option on reserve guard Nemanja Nedovic, according to Warriors sources. They have until Friday to make their plans known to the public, but the decision has already been made to pay Barnes nearly $3.9 million and Ezeli just more than $2 million for the 2015-16 season. There was some internal debate about the Barnes option, but the team believes he’s a tradeable asset — even if he doesn’t rediscover the promise he showed during the 2013 playoffs.
  • Mike Richman of The Oregonian: Playing with just nine healthy players and missing reigning MVP Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to struggle against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night. Then Russell Westbrook happened and for three quarters Portland was in trouble. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, Westbrook didn't have much help as Portland pulled away in the fourth quarter to seal a 106-89 win in front of a sold out crowd at the Moda Center. Westbrook finished with 38 points and six assists scoring at will against the Blazers defense. He took turns carving up Damian Lillard, Steve Blake, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews for the first three quarters before the Thunder faded in the fourth.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets point guard Pat Beverley limped off the court with 5:10 remaining, with general manager Daryl Morey and vice president Gersson Rosas ominously following him to the locker room. Beverley was quickly ruled out for the rest of the game with a strained left hamstring, with several individuals briefed on the initial examination saying later the injury did not seem serious. As with all muscle injuries, the real test will be how Beverley feels in the days to come. After a long treatment session in the training room, Beverley refused to comment. "Don't come over here with questions," he said. "I'm not answering." Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he had no information about the severity of the injury.
  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: The plan was for Rajon Rondo to go through one last full-contact practice, get looked at by team doctors, and then sleep on things to see if he felt good enough to step on the court for the Celtics’ season opener against the Nets Wednesday night. So he did. He made sure the nap was nice and long. “When I woke up, I was like, ‘OK, I’m playing.’ ” It wasn’t much more complicated than that. After breaking his left hand last month, the point guard returned to action a month ahead of schedule. Rondo started participating in full-contact practices last Thursday with the hope of returning for the opener. After watching in practice and getting updates from team doctors, coach Brad Stevens felt confident Rondo was healthy enough. “It’s healed quick, it’s healed well and we feel comfortable with him playing,” Stevens said. ... Rondo played 30 minutes, collecting 13 points, and a game-high 12 assists, and 7 rebounds in Boston’s 121-105 blasting of the Nets.

The Thunder without Kevin Durant

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
2:10
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe says that a long-term commitment to team defense, and the presence of Russell Westbrook, will keep the Thunder afloat while their leader is injured.

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Thunder trouble?

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
2:08
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Tom Haberstroh checks in with Royce Young on the laundry list of issues in Oklahoma City ahead of the season opener.

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Let the Month of Westbrook begin

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
1:40
PM ET
Young By Royce Young
ESPN.com
Archive
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Nothing in sports is more unpredictable than Russell Westbrook. I don’t even mean on a game-to-game basis. I mean on a play-to-play basis. We know he’s a fantastic player. We know he has outrageous talent. We know he can lose control and self-destruct. We know he can take your breath away while simultaneously taking over a game.

What we don’t know, though, is how or when those things will happen, especially for the next month or so. That’s what makes watching him so addicting.

The Thunder’s previously consistent infrastructure has been shaken by a flurry of injuries, most notably to the league’s reigning MVP. Subtracting Kevin Durant is bad, but to make it way worse, the Thunder will travel with only nine healthy players for an opening back-to-back road trip against the Trail Blazers and Clippers. Here’s the Thunder’s complete bench for their first two games: Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Thomas, who only recently made the team off a training camp invite. That’s it.

Westbrook already had an incredible burden on him to carry a contender for a month without Durant. Now, at least to start the season, he has to do it relying on the likes of Andre Roberson and Perry Jones.

Durant took full advantage of a similar situation last season when Westbrook was out, putting together a historic January that catapulted him to his first MVP trophy. The way Durant went to another level while lifting his teammates to a higher place was downright religious. So there’s a natural expectation that Westbrook will take his turn and showcase his leadership chops.

But Westbrook’s situation is not at all equal to the one Durant was placed in last season. First, there is no sensible backup to slot into Durant’s role. When Westbrook was absent for 36 games, Reggie Jackson was able to somewhat mimic the All-Star point guard, at least to the degree the Thunder didn’t have to completely reinvent themselves. Second, Westbrook is going to start the season not just without Durant, but without Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow. So outside of Serge Ibaka his next top offensive threat is Collison, who averaged 4.2 points per game last season.

Undoubtedly, there will be a rush to judgment after the Thunder’s first game. If Westbrook struggles, the narrative will be ready to roll off the assembly line, pinning the blame on him and the fact he was unable to play the alpha role he presumptively has always wanted. That the pecking order between Westbrook and Durant has officially been established and emblematic ownership of the team cemented.

What’s important to remember, though, is this is just October. The games are no less important in a pure statistical manner, but with a wider lens, there’s plenty of time to recover. Durant will return and, assuming good future health, the Thunder will resume their place in the top tier of Western contenders. Regardless of how the Thunder fare in this short window, the Westbrook-Durant relationship is already on a solid foundation. There won’t be any hierarchical questions popping up.

In the meantime we’re going to watch an uncaged Westbrook, released on the court with instructions to only survive. He’s going to have to battle his own competitive instincts to assume all responsibility and attempt to score 80 of the team’s 90 points each night. At his core, Westbrook is a basketball Rambo, a maverick loner fully willing to go rogue when necessary. He relishes being told he can’t. It’s never about asking why; it’s always about asking why not. He’s said all the right things so far about playing as a team and just sticking to his job, but Westbrook is pretty good about saying things and doing other things. It’s not that he’s intent on ball-hogging for 38 minutes and ignoring teammates. It’s that his domineering gravitational pull can sometimes make it seem that way.

“It’s not about me. It’s about our team. I can’t win games by myself. I can’t do anything by myself,” Westbrook said. “I kind of want to take the attention off me and put it more on the team. Everybody keeps asking what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change. I think it’s more about our team and what we can do.”

The Thunder have spent the summer and training camp attempting to install a more socialistic offense, with increased movement, passing and spacing. All good things in theory, but let’s see what happens if Westbrook spends three quarters swinging passes around as the Thunder slip behind by double-digits. As if Westbrook isn’t going to bulldoze his way to the rim with straight-line drives the next 16 possessions.

That’s what we’re in for over the next four to six weeks as Durant recovers. Westbrook may put up five triple-doubles and average 28-8-8. Or he may shoot 34 percent from the field and turn it over six times a game. Or he may do both. He's a maniac with tunnel vision only for winning at all costs. With him backed into a corner, his survival instincts are about to kick into overdrive.

The Thunder are bound to struggle as they muddle their way through this rash of injuries. They’ve managed these kinds of situations before and have a system in place to persevere. They say this is just about an opportunity to get better, for others to develop and grow. But forget that. It’s about the full-on unfiltered Russell Westbrook Experience. It will be exciting, it will be terrifying, it will be thrilling, it will be horrifying, it will be exhilarating.

This is the Month of Westbrook. Embrace the chaos.

TrueHoop TV Live

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
1:38
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
2 p.m. ET. Be there.

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
4:36
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: There are two new aspects to Nik Vucevic these days. First, as everybody knows, Vucevic and the Orlando Magic agreed to a four-year contract extension that should keep him with the team through the 2018-19 season. The second is a new characteristic that Vucevic hopes to display all season: more confidence when he receives the ball in the low post. Vucevic made 56.3 percent of his shot attempts during the preseason, and the Magic were hoping for a big game from him in the season opener Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. "I just try to be aggressive," Vucevic said. "I feel like this preseason I've been able to get the ball a lot close to the basket to where I feel very comfortable, to where I can make a quick move. If I get close to the basket, my teammates want me to score, want me to go at the basket."
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: What a front-court combination this could shape up to be for the Pelicans this season. Newcomer Omer Asik had his first Pelicans' double-double in the bag by halftime, and returning All-Star Anthony Davis picked up where he left off last season, threatening a triple-double in Game 1. Davis finished with 26 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks. Asik also had five blocked shots against the Magic, but the big guy had his hands full with Orlando center Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 15 points and 23 rebounds. It's clear that the Asik-Davis duo is an upgrade compared to last year's Davis-center-by-committee groupings.
  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Tuesday, without Tiago Splitter available, Bonner and Diaw went at Nowitzki. None of it was easy, just as the series against Dallas last season wasn't. The Mavericks took a 10-point lead early in the second half. And without Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills, the Spurs needed the same three who sat together in June to play as they did in June. They did, scoring nine of the Spurs' final 12 points. Duncan posted Tyson Chandler twice. Ginobili made a back-cut for a score. And, after Nowitzki had given Dallas a two-point lead, Parker merely tossed in his fourth 3-pointer in four attempts. “I was like, hey, it's going to go in tonight,” Parker said. “I can't do worse than I did in the preseason.” The shots won't always fall. They not only need the three who are out, they also need the others to stay healthy. And as it was in the OKC series, it can still come down to a play or two. But Tuesday also showed what happened after the celebration stopped and the rings were distributed. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker reacted as if these are still the good, old days. Maybe, in their next sit-down together, they can elaborate.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: One NBA game is way too small of a sample size to get riled up about anything. But this certainly wasn’t the kind of showing Chandler Parsons was hoping for in his Dallas Mavericks’ debut. The marquee free-agent signing of the summer had a complete dud going in the season opener Tuesday night, a 101-100 heartbreaker against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. He missed seven of his first eight shots before nailing a 3-pointer with 2:42 to play to pull the Mavericks within 96-94. He finished the game by misfiring on a 3-pointer just before the buzzer. ... Parsons offered no excuses. ... None of the Mavericks voiced any concern about Parsons, who averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists last season with Houston before signing with the Mavericks for three years and $46-million. All that can be done is to chalk this up as one of those off nights that happens to all NBA players in their career.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the lead up to 26 points, Dwight Howard pulled in a rebound and Bryant's long-awaited return had been reduced to carrying an overmatched, undermanned team nowhere near far enough. So with the Rockets well on their way to a 108-90 blowout win to begin the season Tuesday night, Bryant and Howard got together one last time to put on a show more memorable than anything they had on the floor. Bryant began by smacking at Howard's swinging forearms. Howard connected with an elbow. They both entertained lip-readers, with Bryant calling either Howard or the foul, "soft." Howard smiled and shouted, "I know you, dog." Bryant followed with his angriest, "Try me." Howard had begun the day asked about reports that players do not want to play with Bryant, repeating again he signed with the Rockets as a free agent not to leave Los Angeles but to play for Houston. He added, however, a prophetic, "I didn't leave LA because I was afraid of Kobe." Apparently not.
  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: On a night that served as a prolonged indictment of Lakers management, the other stand-up veteran besides Kobe Bryant was Lakers boss Jeanie Buss, who sat up in her usual first-row-behind-courtside seat and greeted fans and cynics alike. She didn't shy away from tough questions or conciliatory hugs. She even did a national television interview between quarters. Say this much for the late Jerry Buss' daughter, she is not shying away from the heat. This is the same Buss who publicly stood up for Bryant recently after he was derided by anonymous sources in a story that detailed how nobody wants to play with him. It is true that some free agents, Dwight Howard in particular, have chafed at the idea of playing next to the intense Bryant. But that's not why these Lakers are so bad. In the end, players always follow the money, and because of their huge commitment to Bryant, the Lakers just don't have the right kind of money. The team is betting on Bryant being entertaining enough to keep fans interested for the next two seasons. If Tuesday is any indication, they are going to lose that bet, and lose it big.
  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: When the end was near, when Lionel Hollins could no longer continue a decades-long tradition of talking basketball with Jack Ramsay, he still made calls to him, the old coach in South Florida. A friend of Ramsay’s would answer and ask Hollins to record a message. In the last one, a day or two before Ramsay died in April at age 89 after a long struggle with cancer, Hollins got right to the point. “I love you,” he said. “You were a father figure for me, much more than a coach.” With the N.B.A. regular season upon us, let us note that Derek Fisher, the Knicks’ new coach, isn’t the only one in town extending a legacy, from Red Holzman to Phil Jackson to him. In Brooklyn, where Hollins has replaced Jason Kidd, he brings a vintage stamp, too, as a disciple of Ramsay, or Dr. Jack, a Hall of Famer who coached in the N.B.A. for 21 years.As a starter on Ramsay’s championship Portland Trail Blazers in 1977, Hollins — like Fisher, a southpaw — led a group of swift guards. Bill Walton triggered fast breaks with textbook outlet passes. Maurice Lucas provided the muscle. Ramsay’s Blazers were the old (1970s) Knicks of the Great Northwest, another quintessential unit working, it seemed, telepathically.
  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: If the droves of data can be daunting to digest, Alex McKechnie soon emerged with one surprising takeaway. According to the Catapult numbers captured during Raptors scrimmages, some 80 per cent of movements were performed laterally or backwards. Only 20 per cent of athletes’ collective movement was of the forward variety. McKechnie beckoned Gary McCoy, Catapult’s senior applied sports scientist, to have a look at what he’d discovered. ... The changes the Raptors have made since embracing Catapult technology aren’t merely the stuff of tech-savvy trivia. One of the underplayed stories of Toronto’s first playoff run in six years was that, along with benefitting from the Rudy Gay trade and career-best work from a handful of key pieces, the Raptors were the least-injured team in the league in 2013-14 as measured by man games lost. The previous year, when they won 34 games and finished out of the post-season for the fifth straight year, they were one of the most-injured squads. McKechnie’s understanding of the Catapult data has been credited, along with some good fortune and various other factors, as a major reason for the reversal. Along with rejigging training protocols to account for the vast amount of lateral and rearward movements, practising with the devices also allows the team to keep an eye on the overall workload being imposed on its players. That information helps coaches determine the duration and intensity of sweat sessions.

Just how good will the Mavericks be?

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:21
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
ESPN Dallas' Craig Hoffman discusses Mavericks' outlook for 2014-15 season and whether Chandler Parsons was a worthwhile investment.

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Chris Paul NBA's second-best player?

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
5:05
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Is Chris Paul the second-best player in the NBA? David Thorpe says one of his favorite players has disappointed at times and at this point should be ranked lower.

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A new era of 'Jazz Basketball'

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
11:30
AM ET
By Andy Larsen
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Quin SnyderAP Photo/Rick BowmerAfter decades of consistency, the Jazz hope new coach Quin Snyder can change things for the better.
For 35 years, the Utah Jazz stayed true to a set of principles colloquially known as "Jazz Basketball.” The franchise's philosophy was instituted by former NBA executive and coach of the year Frank Layden, and developed by legendary coach Jerry Sloan. It glorifies energy, toughness, structure and hard-nosed play. “Whether it's a cut, a pick or running the floor, they do everything with great energy and always have,” said Gregg Popovich, who modeled his small-market organization after the Jazz. “It seems to be in the water in Salt Lake City.”

When Sloan stepped down, Ty Corbin, a Jazz assistant for seven years, sought to implement much of the same style as his predecessors. But after 25 more losses than wins in his two-plus-season tenure, Corbin was let go.

Enter Quin Snyder. An assistant for four professional teams over the past four years, Snyder is the first head coach the franchise has hired from out of town since the Jazz first moved to Utah in 1979. His first order of business? Fundamentally changing Jazz Basketball.

“As we’ve heard and seen what Quin’s philosophy and proposal is,” team president Randy Rigby said, “it’s the right time for Jazz Basketball to move to this style.”

Out, then, is the Jazz’s methodical half-court approach, generally favored by the team since the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone. The Jazz played at the fifth-slowest pace in the NBA last season, out-walked only by the much older Heat, Knicks, Bulls and Grizzlies. Even the ancient Nets ran more often than Utah did last season, despite the Jazz having the third-youngest roster in the league.

In is a new philosophy, explained by Snyder as "playing with a pass, playing with pace, and playing with purpose.” In short, it's a much more modern approach: The Jazz will look to bend the opposition's setup using quick ball movement, push the ball as quickly as possible in order to take advantage of holes in the defense and space the floor with intention. As Jazz GM (and former Spurs exec) Dennis Lindsey explained, “Any time you get defenses to change body position, usually there’s somewhere inside the defense that there will be a breakdown. Then, the integrity of the lines of the defense can be compromised through penetration, whether it be with a dribble or with a pass.”

It remains to be seen whether the Jazz have the personnel to implement this sort of system, which will require good 3-point shooting to implement effectively. The team was 25th in the league in 3-point percentage last season, and its best outside performer, Richard Jefferson, has signed with Dallas.

Snyder, though, has been eager to show off how it can work. The first-time NBA head coach held an open scrimmage for fans before the Jazz’s summer-league team traveled to Las Vegas this season, taking the time to explain to an attendance of over 10,000 the X’s and O’s of the new system they'd be seeing on the court.

Then, before training camp began last month, he held a practice with the media on the court, running the assembled TV, radio, newspaper and Internet hordes through the offense -- slowly, with no defense, in five-man groups. We were rotated through stations explaining different bits of the offense: how the Jazz plan to play in flow, how players' floor locations bend while running a side pick-and-roll, and even a triangle-esque "gaggle" double-screen play.

As each of us tried to follow along, Snyder and his staff of coaches showed off their communicative skills, and somehow never lost patience with a large group of clueless newbies. "I can tell there were a lot of dedicated journalists out there on the floor," Snyder said with a laugh. "I think it's fun for the media to get an idea of what we're trying to do.

Snyder's teaching skills are a large part of what the Jazz liked about him when searching for a coach this offseason. He won the job in Utah in large part through his player development expertise that has left a wave of vocal supporters among the players he's coached, including former Jazzman DeMarre Carroll, who after spending the 2013-14 season with Snyder in Atlanta told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "This is the first year a coach really worked with me on my footwork, my shot, spent time with me. That’s a credit to Coach Quin. That shows me that he cares about me as a person, cares about my career."

[+] EnlargeDante Exum
AP Photo/Rick BowmerThe Jazz have committed to building around young talent like No. 5 overall pick Dante Exum.
So far, the Jazz’s players are turning in rave reviews as well. Enes Kanter couldn’t help but compare Snyder to previous Jazz coaches. “It's so different than with my other coaches before,” Kanter said. “He's just like a big brother. He's not like, 'Oh, I'm the coach, I know everything.' He's asking players 'What should we do, what should we not do?'"

Trevor Booker, a new signing with Utah this season, agreed: “Coach Q’s like a basketball genius. I mean, he knows the game so well. He’s trying to incorporate the offense and defense, and at the same time point out little things to the players and make sure we see it from his perspective on why we’re doing this and this. He’s great so far.”

The emphasis on player development is a necessity given Utah’s young roster. The Jazz have extended over $27 million in contracts next season for Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. The 24-year-old and the 23-year-old count as Utah’s “veteran” leaders. Beyond them, Utah’s core rotation of Kanter, Alec Burks, Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and Dante Exum is between 19 and 23 years old.

Utah’s front office knows that not all of the Jazz’s youth will pan out. “I can’t stand here and tell you today which players will develop and which won’t,” Lindsey said. “but we’ll make sure to put all of our time, energy and resources into each player, and in time we think that will make a good team.”

With all of the changes and inexperience (not to mention a tough Western Conference), the Jazz won’t be expecting to put up a winning record next season. Instead, success will be measured by the progress made by individual players, and how well those players fit within the revolutionized Jazz system as implemented by Snyder.

For his part, Snyder’s not worried about the tall task ahead of him. When asked if his team can learn to win right away, Snyder responded, “Sometimes that comes a little later … but there's a long time for later with this group.”

After 35 years of the old Jazz Basketball, fans in Utah won't mind waiting to find out.

Andy Larsen writes for Salt City Hoops, part of the TrueHoop Network. Follow him, @andyblarsen.

Sam Hinkie's Philadelphia vacation

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
10:00
AM ET
By Tom Sunnergren
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Joel Embiid, Sam HinkieGetty ImagesDrafting an injured Joel Embiid reinforced Sixers GM Sam Hinkie's approach to long-term rebuilding.
There’s a fine line between patience and sadism. Sam Hinkie is toeing it.

Consider the 2014 NBA draft: Two years after Andrew Bynum landed in and ultimately left Philadelphia, 12 months after the franchise drafted another injured center who has yet to make his regular-season debut, 71 days after the conclusion of a season that was tanked so brazenly it jump-started a national conversation about incentivized losing, and minutes after a substantial contingent of Sixers fans at the Barclay Center started an impassioned “Wiggins” chant, the Philadelphia general manager, surely aware of all this dismal history and its residue, did something that’s sensible only in hindsight. He ignored it.

With the Nos. 3 and 10 selections in a loaded draft, Hinkie acquired a player who almost certainly won’t get on the floor in 2014-15, a second who is under contract to play professional basketball in Turkey for at least two more seasons and an additional first-round pick that won’t come until 2017. Help was not on the way. Not immediately, at least.

Back in Philadelphia the day after the draft, Hinkie was interrogated by Sixers beat writers about his decision to push back contention another season by selecting Joel Embiid -- the guy with Hakeem’s potential and Yao’s navicular bone -- and Dario Saric. The tone was incredulous: How could you make Sixers fans go through a season like the one they just endured and give them nothing in return? Don’t you owe them more? His answer was revealing and is worth reading in full.

“I would say I’ve been borderline shocked in the last few months at a bunch of things. One is just how smart our fans are and how much they understand … the price you have to pay to go to where you want to go. I’ve been shocked at how interested our fans have been, generally, in an organization that would focus on a goal that is lofty and hard to reach, and a path that could easily be difficult, in an effort to get back to somewhere that they all want us to get to. That we want to get to. To get back to being a finalist again. To get back to winning a title again. It has been remarkable to me to watch the level of intrigue and the level of patience and understanding.”

Philadelphia basketball fans are smiling as they stare down the barrel of another season that, by conventional metrics -- like, say, wins -- will almost certainly be excruciating. The reason Sixers boosters have developed this rosy attitude is odd and oddly encouraging. The franchise has done something difficult and important: They have successfully convinced a group of modern Americans to wait for pleasure.

A few years ago, a team of researchers in the Netherlands set out to get a clearer sense of how taking a vacation affects happiness. The team rounded up 1,530 adults and, over the course of 32 weeks, recorded their levels of contentment before, during and after a getaway. Like those of most academic works that can be easily repurposed as structuring metaphors for sports columns, the results were unexpected. Going on a trip makes people happy, they found, but not nearly as happy as planning one. Thinking about fun things, in other words, is more satisfying than actually living them. Anticipation trumps experience.

[+] EnlargeNerlens Noel
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/GettyAfter sitting out last season, Nerlens Noel might start delivering sooner than later.
It’s in this way that the 76ers organization built a 19-63 basketball team a stellar approval rating. The organization deftly sold fans the idea that, just over the horizon, was a vacation. It sold them on potential.

What’s made a pitch like this not just successful but even possible is the increasing sophistication of modern sports fans, a phenomenon where Philadelphia is the unlikely epicenter. We’re in an age of evidence-based athletics -- biometrics replacing the eye test, analytics supplanting conventional wisdom, individualized nutrition plans nudging aside fast-food indulgences -- and the trend has been publicized by an army of print and online journalists who write about competition not lyrically, but from the vantage of a clear-eyed business analyst. We’ve been subjected to a thorough unpacking of the new science of sports. And just across the parking lot from the Sixers, the Philadelphia Eagles represent the gridiron actualization of this trend. An organization that was a shambles was rebuilt into an instant contender through a meticulous application of these very ideas.

This way of thinking dissolves the apparent radicalness of the Sixers project into sober practicality. If you accept the premise that the point of professional sports is winning championships -- which most of us, for better or worse, do -- then there’s nothing even remotely controversial about the way the franchise has conducted itself since Hinkie took over as general manager in May 2013. They have made a series of wise, disciplined and explicable steps toward winning, and winning often.

The roster is terrible at present but is loaded with possibility. Nerlens Noel, the fierce defender who slid to the Sixers in the 2013 draft, posted eight rebounds, five steals and five blocks in the preseason finale. Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 point guard with gazelle speed, is the defending rookie of the year. Embiid was the consensus best prospect in the 2014 draft until a foot injury -- which the Sixers believe he will fully recover from -- eroded his standing. Saric was regarded as a high-lottery pick before he signed a multiyear contract overseas.

That’s a stable of young talent that rivals any in the league. And with the Sixers poised to struggle again in 2014-15, there’s more to come -- especially now that a coalition of small-market owners voted down a proposal to alter the lottery structure to diminish the favor it gives to the worst teams.

Coupled with the Sixers' embrace of sports science, and the rigorous way it analyzes players, it’s become clear to suddenly savvy Philadelphians that this team is headed in the right direction, and will get there eventually if not quickly. What’s most impressive about this franchise isn't just that fact, but how thoroughly they've convinced us of it.

First Cup: Tuesday

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
4:49
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: With LeBron James now gone and Dwyane Wade something of an unknown quantity — “My impact is going to be what my impact is going to be,” Wade said Monday. — it’s on Bosh to lead the franchise. If nothing else, it won’t be boring until April. After declaring on Monday that he needs to be an animal on the court this season, Bosh was asked a fanciful question: If he were an animal, what animal would he be? “A werewolf,” Bosh said. “Sometimes it’s good to be the hunter and not the hunted.”
  • Jenny Dial Creech and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Point guard Jeremy Lin, who played for the Rockets last season, has a little more perspective from the Dwight Howard side. "Part of it is what happened in L.A., but within the last two years, Dwight has wanted to become more assertive and dominant in general," Lin said. "Add the Lakers on there, and I'm sure he is going to want to establish himself." Lakers fans likely will boo Howard again when he walks out on the court Tuesday. Lin says it won't bother Howard. "This isn't the only place he got booed," Lin said. "He got booed in a lot of places and took it all in stride with a smile on his face, and I respect him for that. It's easy for everyone to shout and jab at him. ... To deal with it every road game, I was impressed with how he dealt with it."
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The noise level will rise once the Lakers take center stage in their season opener against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant will play in his first regular-season game since suffering a season-ending left knee injury nearly 10 months ago. Byron Scott will coach the Lakers in the first game that matters, bringing full circle an NBA career that included winning three championships with the Showtime Lakers. Lakers guard Jeremy Lin will face the former team that traded him this offseason in a salary dump. And the Lakers’ recent top nemesis will emerge, Dwight Howard’s presence likely eliciting rounds of boos and jeers for leaving the Lakers two summers ago. Scott hardly addressed these topics with his team, believing doing so just feeds into such storylines. But he talked plenty to reporters, including discussing what caused friction between Bryant and Howard in their lone season together with the Lakers two years ago. “My outside perspective is Kobe is a real serious guy and wants to win championships,” Scott said. “I don’t know if Dwight is that serious about it. I know No. 24 is and that probably was the clash.” That explains why Scott predicted Howard “would love to play and beat the crap out of us and have a great game.”
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs will pass out NBA championship rings at the AT&T Center tonight and unveil another new banner in the rafters. A packed house will go wild, and eyes will go moist. Tim Duncan, set to become a participant in his fifth ring ceremony before the Spurs' season-opener against the rival Dallas Mavericks, will do all he can to suppress the feeling of “been there, done that.” “I don't know about anybody else, but I'm really going to enjoy that moment,” said Duncan, the Spurs' 38-year-old captain. “I'm not going to look past it. I'm not going to mentally prepare for the game before I get the rings.” ... Once the pregame pomp and circumstance is over, the Spurs will open the new season.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Who says you can’t go home? For Tyson Chandler, it’s almost like he never left Dallas. Almost. It’s hard to erase three years’ worth of circus, which is what life with the New York Knicks was like. The media will latch onto any morsel of controversy, and if there’s none to be found, they’ll invent some. And the Knicks didn’t help. They were, shall we say, in a state of flux. Chandler is as much of a stand-up player and person as there is in the NBA, yet that didn’t go over well in the supposed take-no-guff world that is Gotham. It’s possible that Chandler was meant to be a transplanted Texan. Down here, we appreciate people who stress accountability and looking in the mirror first when things don’t go quite right. So, here he is, the only starting center to win a championship with the Mavericks, back where he belongs, right? But will Tyson Reloaded be as good as the original version? Most sequels pale in comparison with their first run, and that includes when NBA players return to teams where they had success. Chandler, however, doesn’t see a problem. “I’m a smarter player than I was on that championship team,” he said.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic have lost 49 of their last 53 regular-season road games. The futility dates back to March 6, 2013, and only five players on the current roster have been with the team for the entire stretch: Harkless, combo forward Tobias Harris, power forward Andrew Nicholson, big man Kyle O'Quinn and center Nik Vucevic. ... One of the Magic's limitations is beyond the players' control. Power forward Channing Frye and combo guard Victor Oladipo are recovering from injuries. Frye sprained his left knee's medial collateral ligament on Oct. 2 and recently returned to practice on a limited basis. Oladipo missed almost all of October with a sprained MCL in his right knee, and late last week, he suffered a facial fracture during a practice. The Magic won't have time to dwell on their bad luck if they want to start their season well. The NBA's schedule makers did them no favors. The Magic will play 16 of their first 23 games on the road, beginning with Tuesday night's matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center.
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti lectured us just a few weeks ago. The NBA season is a grind. You can’t win anything in November. Blah blah blah blah blah. You know. All the stuff we ignore while living and dying with a Thunder road game in Minneapolis while stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey. Of course, now we grasp Presti’s wisdom. Sam Sensei. Funny how the plagues of Egypt can change your thinking. The Thunder season opens Wednesday night out West, and high expectations have taken a pit stop. The Thunder’s early-season goals (mesh the new guys, move the ball, soothe the transition of Steven Adams replacing Kendrick Perkins) and our early-season goals (win every game and look good doing it) have been replaced by a common mission. Find enough healthy bodies to take the court for the opening tip in Portland.
  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: J.J. Redick is maybe a little fussy. The sleep-deprived Clippers shooting guard has been taking out his frustrations on the refs in the preseason, picking up three total technical fouls – including an ejection. “I think that has to do with sleep. I’m a little grouchy,” Redick said Monday. “I had to explain to both referees, ‘Hey man. I have a newborn at home. I’ve been doing the dream feed.’” The dream feed, the crying and general parenthood has kept Redick from the 10 hours (yup, 10 hours) of sleep he said he’s used to getting every night. While the messed up circadian rhythms (his words) might be Redick’s excuse for his on-court behavior in the preseason, his competitiveness and intensity are more likely culprits. Chris Paul, who squared off with Redick in the ACC while the two played for Wake Forest and Duke, respectively, knows all about Redick’s fire.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Leading up to the start of the regular season, the Muscle Milk brand produced a two-minute video telling the story of how Warriors point guard Stephen Curry changed his entire shot from in high school to set him apart from taller opponents. Curry channels the “I Can Do All Things” scripture into his mindset for the piece to give you a quick inside look at the practice, process and perseverance that led him to develop the perfect shot.
  • Casey Parks of The Oregonian: Thousands of Trail Blazers fans captured their own cell phone images and videos of the moment, but this particular clip has been viewed online 9 million times. It is, in the words of thousands of commenters, the best Vine ever. But the story behind those six seconds? That's a little more complicated. ... By Saturday morning, a dozen different views of The Shot were making the Internet rounds. Sports websites showcased them all. Damian Lillard posted only one on his Facebook: Thomas's Vine. The sports website Deadspin called it "perfect." USA Today said "it might be the greatest sports Vine of all time." By the time Thomas woke up in Missouri, his Vine post had already gone viral. Editors at the ESPN Assignment Desk had left a comment, asking for permission to air it. Others left comments saying they had seen Thomas on ESPN, holding his cell phone up as Lillard made the shot. ... Thomas didn't step in to correct anyone. It felt too good to have a viral video. People were leaving comments asking him to watch their videos, as if he were suddenly famous enough to make other people Internet stars. After a few days, the comments started to turn. Someone with the username Rami Romaya accused Thomas of taking the video from him. ... A few days after the video went viral, Laz reached out to Thomas. The two spent a few days chatting over Instagram. Thomas apologized and told Laz he didn't expect the Vine to become so popular. His friends at school hadn't even been impressed. They were still rooting for the Heat. "I told him, 'I don't want to down on you because you seem pretty chill,'" Laz said. "... He didn't know he was stealing." It'd be a stretch to say the boys are friends now, but they do share a connection, a kind created by sports long before the days of social media, a kind we all shared in the seconds after The Shot. As the Missouri teen cheered in his basement, we were leaping off our barstools or dancing in the aisles or jumping from our couches to scream. Lillard, the man who made The Shot, was strolling toward the scorer's table and grabbing a microphone: "Rip City!" It's called "sharing" on social media for a reason. Nobody owns a moment like that.

Now this is going to be fun

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
2:43
PM ET
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Andrew WigginsDavid Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Wolves may be bad, but with athletes like Andrew Wiggins on board, they'll be entertaining.
In the 25 years of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ existence, 19 have been anchored by a big man: 12 years with Kevin Garnett, two wherein Al Jefferson and Kevin Love played together and the past four with Love. Meanwhile, their wings have been woefully -- and at times almost comically -- unathletic. Their best and/or longest-tenured 2-guards and small forwards have been shooters (Anthony Peeler, Wally Szczerbiak, Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Martin), defenders (Trenton Hassell) and even in some cases point guards in disguise (Luke Ridnour). Aside from Isaiah Rider’s three seasons with the team and Latrell Sprewell’s two, Minnesota has never had a beat-your-man-off-the-dribble-and-soar-for-a-dunk athlete who can make fans swoon.

That’s about to change.

With the addition of electric rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and the departure of Love, the Wolves have not only shifted away from an emphasis on the frontcourt but also made a quantum leap in athleticism on the perimeter. Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 draft and the dowry in the August trade of Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, may be among the most made-for-TV players in the league, the type of athlete who could one day turn snowy Minnesota and the bottom-feeding Timberwolves into a destination on your League Pass (or even national) dial.

Their arrival also signals a more wide-open approach to roster building. When the Wolves got the chance to get Love in a draft-day trade for O.J. Mayo, they did, even though they already had Jefferson on the team. But a succession of moves valuing fit over talent followed: They dealt Jefferson only to pair Love with a similar player in Nikola Pekovic; they drafted Jonny Flynn instead of Stephen Curry in 2009; they took Wes Johnson instead of DeMarcus Cousins 2010. By drafting LaVine and dealing for unpolished, high-potential youngsters in Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the Wolves seem to be at least be acknowledging the long view. “I think you have to take what’s available,” said Flip Saunders.

But success is tough to define right now. Taking out the idea of what players like Wiggins or LaVine or Bennett might one day become, the offseason was one of the biggest steps back in terms of pure basketball skill the team has ever taken. Ever since Ricky Rubio came over from Europe in 2011, most of the Wolves’ moves have been of the win-now variety: hiring Rick Adelman, J.J. Barea, signing Andrei Kirilenko, taking a risk on Brandon Roy, trading for Kevin Martin, moving Derrick Williams. No matter that none of those things resulted in enough actual winning to make the playoffs; the intention was to put the right pieces around Love and Rubio and Pekovic to contend.

Saunders is, of course, going to keep talking about winning, about contending. As both coach and GM, that’s his job, and when he talks about it to the media, he’s also talking about it to the players. But what are the fans going to get out of this? In spite of winning more games in each of the past three seasons, the Timberwolves’ attendance has fallen from 15th to 21st to 27th in the league. While some of this has to do with ticket price increases, it also has to do with the fact that it wasn’t a ton of fun for the average fan during the Love era.

Sure, there were outlet passes and outliers, like Love’s game-winner against the Clippers and Corey Brewer’s 51-point game. But the 10th-best play of Love’s Timberwolves career is a fairly ordinary dunk -- and that’s not going to put butts in seats. The Wolves only had 17 alley-oop dunks last season; the Clippers had 169. The Wolves often played beautiful, effective basketball the past three seasons, but it was rarely exciting basketball.

Based on summer league and preseason play, that shouldn’t be a problem this year. Whatever LaVine’s shortcomings as an all-around basketball player at this point, however long the road to his being a serviceable point guard at the NBA level might be (which seems to be one of the Wolves’ goals for him), he’s a Phantom Cam highlight waiting to happen.

And Wiggins has shown flashes of what has been predicted for so long: strong defensive instincts, a video game-esque leaping ability, sound shooting form. He’s also looked as if he hasn’t even been trying. If you listen to the buzz, this augurs one of two things: 1.) he lacks the motor or competitive spirit to succeed at the NBA level and will perpetually underwhelm or 2.) one day he will try and the Earth will explode.

We can approach what this team could or should be from a variety of angles, but the more you chop up the idea of a team identity, the less it seems to mean. Faced with the impending loss of their franchise cornerstone, the Timberwolves rolled the dice on getting as much raw athletic potential onto the team as possible. Years from now, the trade that brought Wiggins to Minnesota might look like just the stroke of good fortune the team needed, a gift. But for now, it’s just the present.

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