cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 12:58 AM

Preview: Celtics (0-0) at Raptors (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 7:00 PM EDT

When the Boston Celtics parted ways with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the offseason's biggest trade, it marked the end of an era and the beginning of a massive rebuilding job.

In the midst of a franchise-worst playoff drought, the Toronto Raptors have been trying to rebuild for some time.

With Doc Rivers now in the Western Conference and Rajon Rondo recovering from knee surgery, rookie coach Brad Stevens leads his new-look Celtics into their season debut Wednesday night in Toronto.

Following its 4-2 series loss to New York in the first round of the playoffs, Boston (41-40) said goodbye to Rivers on June 25 when it sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers for an unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick.

Three days later, the last of the 'Big Three' were gone, too. The Celtics traded Pierce and Garnett - along with Jason Terry - to the Brooklyn Nets for three future first-round picks along with Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and Keith Bogans.

After Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces in Boston for the 2007-08 season, the Celtics went an East-best 314-161 with five division titles, two finals appearances and an NBA title in that first year together.

Now the 17-time champions are preaching patience after signing the 37-year-old Stevens away from Butler in July to begin a new era. While it remains to be seen whether they build around Rondo or move him as well, the Celtics appear to be well-armed for a long-term fix with nine first-round draft picks in the next five years.

"I think people outside of our circle need to have patience - fans, media," said forward Jeff Green, one of seven holdovers from last season. "I mean, you can't get perfection overnight."

There certainly could be some growing pains offensively with Rondo's return date uncertain after having surgery on a torn ACL that ended his season after 38 games.

With no experienced point guard, the Celtics are expected to go with defensive whiz Avery Bradley to fill in for the four-time All-Star, who led the league with 11.1 assists per game last season.

Green hopes to continue his growth offensively after averaging 20.1 points in 17 regular-season starts, including the final 13 games, while going 27 of 52 from 3-point range.

"With what I've done throughout this league, I'm going to have to be a leader on this team," said Green, who averaged a team-high 20.3 points in the playoffs.

Green will try to help the Celtics get off to a positive start against a Toronto team that finished in 10th place in the East last season.

The Raptors (34-48) are 152-242 since last making the playoffs in 2007-08, and their perpetual project took another turn in the offseason. They hired Masai Ujiri, the NBA's reigning executive of the year, away from Denver to take over as president and general manager.

Ujiri dealt former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani to New York in exchange for sharpshooter Steve Novak, a first-round pick and two second-rounders. He also signed forward Tyler Hansbrough and backup point guard D.J. Augustin, both part of Indiana's playoff team last season.

"We've added Tyler but we're basically the same team," coach Dwane Casey told the team's official website. "We just have to get better knowing our system."

Casey enters his third year at the helm hoping to avoid another dismal start after opening 4-19 last season, and it should help having Rudy Gay from the outset.

In his 33 games after coming over from Memphis via trade Jan. 31, Gay averaged a team-best 19.5 points while leading the Raptors to a 17-16 record. He averaged 21.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in three meetings with the Celtics after joining Toronto despite shooting 36.8 percent.

Teammate Jonas Valanciunas could be headed toward a breakout year after averaging 15.5 points in the last 10 games of his rookie season, while DeMar DeRozan looks to build on his career-best 18.1 points per game.

The Raptors have lost 20 of 25 to the Celtics but won 114-90 in the most recent meeting April 17 in Toronto to avoid a season sweep. Gay, Valanciunas and DeRozan combined for 61 points.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 12:59 AM

Preview: Bucks (0-0) at Knicks (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 7:30 PM EDT

(AP) - The starting lineup still isn't finalized and the bench will be weakened. Not the ideal way for the New York Knicks to start a season.

They were blistering at the beginning last season, blowing out Miami in their opener en route to a 6-0 record, a win shy of their best start ever. They had at least a share of the Atlantic Division lead every day and won it for the first time since 1994.

'Last year is over in my mind,' Carmelo Anthony said Tuesday. 'We accomplished what we accomplished last year. This is a new season for me, for us, and we're ready to go out there and play.'

It starts Wednesday night against Milwaukee at Madison Square Garden, with Anthony perhaps back at the power forward spot and J.R. Smith not in the arena while he serves a five-game suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug program.

Coach Mike Woodson said he wouldn't decide on his lineup until Wednesday, though hinted that he was leaning toward moving Anthony back to the position he's played most of the last 1 1/2 seasons, after previously planning to go with a conventional lineup that would have the NBA's leading scorer at his normal small forward spot.

'We've been successful here with Melo playing a lot of 4 and we haven't experimented a whole lot with him playing 3 until this exhibition season,' Woodson said, 'and so I mean I just feel like I don't want to go away from it a lot in terms of him playing at the 4 spot.'

Woodson started newcomer Andrea Bargnani and Anthony together in the preseason, but both shot poorly. Sending Bargnani to the bench and shifting Anthony back to the big forward spot likely moves Metta World Peace into the starting lineup.

Woodson also said Amare Stoudemire would be in uniform, but wouldn't decide how he would use Stoudemire or Kenyon Martin until talking to the forwards Wednesday so they could discuss ways to keep both healthy. Woodson said it was a 'little sticky' that his rotation was unsettled, but insisted he had plenty of options.

'I do know there was a lineup that was pretty successful last year that worked for us that I could always go back to,' Woodson said.

But he can't call upon Smith, who averaged 18.1 points last season and won the Sixth Man of the Year award.

'I can't worry about that,' Anthony said. 'We know J.R.'s situation, we're waiting for him to come back, do his penalty, sit his five games and come back ready. The guys that's out there in place of that got to step up. Just because J.R. is out, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have to come out and play as hard as we should.'

Anthony dismissed comments made a day earlier by TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, who said Anthony should focus on trying to recruit players to join him in New York, rather than his option to become a free agent next summer.

'I don't listen to that guy. Not at all,' Anthony said, referring to Barkley.

'I haven't had a complaint yet in my 10, 11 years in this NBA about playing with me. I think people would love to come to play in New York, and when that time comes, we'll be working on that. I have a big black book, I have a big rolodex, so people that talk about what's going on with me in the offseason and this and that, and I should be getting people to come here, I am. I'm trying.'

The Knicks know it will be easier with another strong season and believe they will have one, even if they don't match last year's start.

'I truly want to build on what we did last year,' Woodson said. 'I mean, last year is last year, but it was a good season for our ballclub and our fans here in New York. The ultimate goal is to win a title and it starts tomorrow night in terms of how we step on the floor and how we play.'

Woodson's team has won five in a row against Milwaukee and will try to extend that run against a banged-up and new-look Bucks club that's playing its first season under coach Larry Drew.

The injury list includes starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) and backup big man Ekpe Udoh (right knee). Swingman Carlos Delfino, one of 11 offseason acquisitions, has been sidelined by a right foot injury.

'It's not easy,' said Drew, who came to Milwaukee after three seasons with Atlanta - each of which saw the team make the playoffs. 'I was hoping we'd have everybody going through training camp because it's a process, a process of me teaching and them learning.'

The biggest change is the Bucks' overhauled backcourt, with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis departing in favor of Brandon Knight (13.3 points and 4.0 assists per game with Detroit) and O.J. Mayo (15.3 points, 4.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds with Dallas).

The team has also added forward Caron Butler and guard Luke Ridnour.

Ilyasova, who averaged 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds last season, is uncertain to play Wednesday, while Udoh is probably out.

'If we're going to get hurt let's get it (done) now, rehab and get stronger, ready to go,' Mayo said.

The teams' most recent matchup came at MSG on April 5, a 101-83 Knicks victory in which Anthony had 41 points and 14 rebounds while Smith added 30 and 10.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:00 AM

Preview: Wizards (0-0) at Pistons (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 7:30 PM EDT

Led by point guard John Wall, the Washington Wizards hope they'll improve enough to seriously challenge for a playoff spot.

New coach Maurice Cheeks, meanwhile, hopes his Detroit Pistons can overcome some injuries at guard early on in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time in five years.

Hoping for a better start than the past two seasons, the visiting Wizards look to avoid a seventh straight loss to the Pistons on Wednesday night.

After going 0-8 in 2011-12, Washington dropped its first 12 games last season. The Wizards went 5-28 while Wall sat with a knee injury. After he returned Jan. 12, the 2010 overall No. 1 pick averaged a career-high 18.5 points with 7.6 assists while Washington went 24-25 to post its most wins (29) since going 43-39 and reaching the playoffs in 2007-08.

The Wizards were 15-7 when Wall, then-rookie Bradley Beal (13.9 points per game in 56 games in 2012-13) and Nene (12.6 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game) played together.

With those three healthy and last week's acquisition of 6-foot-11 Marcin Gortat from Phoenix for Emeka Okafor, the Wizards expect to win at least 30 games and possibly challenge for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Yeah, we have much higher expectations," owner Ted Leonsis said. "It's the fourth season of the rebuild. We expect to be a much, much better team."

How much better depends on many factors, but ideally Washington needs Wall to stay healthy, take care of the ball and shoot better.

His 44.1 percent-shooting effort last season was the best of his career and the 3.2 turnover average also was a personal best. However, his career average of 3.7 turnovers is the highest of any player over the past three seasons.

"This team is not going to get over the top until they take better care of the basketball," said coach Randy Wittman, who along with general manager and team president Ernie Grunfeld, is in the last season of his contract.

While the Wizards hope this year's third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. will provide a dependable inside-outside presence for years to come, Gortat could help down low right away.

Washington ranked second-to-last in the league averaging 36.6 points in the paint in 2012-13, but Gortat has averaged 12.1, plus 8.7 rebounds, the past three seasons.

"We have a true center," Nene told the Wizards' official website. "He's going to help us. He's a veteran. He's a big body who plays physical."

Gortat has scored 16 points in two of his last three games against the Pistons. Wall has averaged 19.3 points, 10.3 assists and 4.3 turnovers in four career contests at Detroit.

Though Washington has dropped six in a row to the Pistons, half of those games were decided by five or fewer points.

Looking to avoid a ninth straight road loss and fourth in a row at Detroit, the Wizards expect to be competitive Wednesday against a Pistons team that's already banged up.

Newcomer Brandon Jennings averaged 17.0 points, despite shooting 39.4 percent, and 5.7 assists in four seasons with Milwaukee, but will miss some time after undergoing oral surgery.

Veteran guard Rodney Stuckey has been ruled out for the opener with an injured thumb, and it's likely 37-year-old Chauncey Billups, rookie Peyton Siva and key reserve Will Bynum will see a bulk of the time in the backcourt.

"It really has been tough, not having Stuck or Brandon pretty much all of the preseason," Billups, the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals for Detroit, told the Pistons' official website. "Those two guys are going to mean so much to what we do offensively, defensively."

The Pistons, who haven't won more than 30 games in a season since going 39-43 to reach the playoffs in 2008-09, still boast the talented frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and newcomer Josh Smith.

Monroe posted team highs of 16.0 points and 9.6 rebounds during last season's 29-53 performance. Drummond proved his worth when the Pistons went 6-16 during a winter stretch while he sat with a tailbone injury.

Smith, who averaged 15.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in nine seasons with Atlanta, provides another veteran presence along with Billups.

Cheeks, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant with Oklahoma City, replaces Lawrence Frank as Detroit's fourth coach in six seasons and ninth since 1999-2000.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:01 AM

Preview: Pacers (0-0) at Hornets (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 8:00 PM EDT

NBA basketball is undergoing a drastic change in New Orleans.

No, it's not just the team's new nickname, the renovated arena or the retooled roster. Expectations have risen for a franchise that lost roughly 68 percent of its games over the last two years, and the Pelicans aren't hiding from them as they open their season at home Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers.

"I believe we can make the playoffs," said 2012 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds as a rookie. "We know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but we're prepared for it."

The then-Hornets went 21-45 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign and finished 27-55 last season, missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. New owner Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's Saints, rebranded the franchise with a more New Orleans-themed nickname and gave general manager Dell Demps free reign to improve the roster.

He seemingly has done just that, acquiring Philadelphia All-Star Jrue Holiday in a draft-night trade in exchange for the No. 6 overall pick. He also sent starting point guard Greivis Vasquez to Sacramento and center Robin Lopez to Portland in a three-team deal that brought in Tyreke Evans and center Jeff Withey.

"Obviously, there's something new here and I'm really excited to be a part of it," said Holiday, who averaged a career-best 17.7 points for the 76ers in 2012-13.

Coach Monty Williams appears to have more talent to work with on his roster. Ryan Anderson, the team's leader with 1,309 points last season, returns along with Eric Gordon, who averaged 17.0 points in only 42 games while battling a knee injury.

"I've been dealing with injuries and so forth, but when you have a lot of talented guys, where you have a chance to grow together ... anything can happen," Gordon said. "We have the talent to be a playoff team."

Williams also is expecting Davis to take a step forward in his second season.

"You're going to see a more confident Anthony," Williams said. "Last year, I thought he was trying to do the right thing and please everybody. Now he's just learning that you just got to go out there and play."

The Pelicans' quest for the playoffs begins Wednesday as they look to end a four-game skid against Indiana, which came within one victory of the NBA Finals last season.

The Pacers (1-0), projected by many to make another deep playoff run, pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Orlando 97-87 in their opener Tuesday. Paul George, last season's Most Improved Player, scored a game-high 24 points.

"We've got to win the battles, win the tough games and we've got to win the games that we should win," George said. "We have to take care of business early and not rely on the end of the season to start playing well and start getting a streak going. We have to start a streak early."

David West, who spent his first eight seasons with New Orleans, finished with 13 points for Indiana, which trailed by four at halftime and committed 20 turnovers.

Roy Hibbert, who had 16 rebounds, eight points and seven blocks, limped to the bench in the fourth quarter after taking a fall, but coach Frank Vogel said he expects his center to play Wednesday.

West scored a game-high 25 and George had 17 points and 12 rebounds as Indiana beat New Orleans 81-75 in the most recent meeting Dec. 22.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:03 AM

Preview: Bobcats (0-0) at Rockets (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 8:00 PM EDT

The addition of James Harden helped make the Houston Rockets a playoff team.

They hope the arrival of Dwight Howard brings even more success.

Wednesday night's opener in Houston against the inferior Charlotte Bobcats should provide a good chance to start in winning fashion.

Just over a year ago, the Rockets had Jeremy Lin and not much else in terms of star power or even recognizable names on a young and inexperienced team.

Houston traded for Harden just before the start of last season and he helped the Rockets return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Their offseason acquisition of Howard, combined with Harden's development, has catapulted the Rockets (45-37) from an afterthought in the Western Conference to a contender quicker than most anyone expected.

The challenge, of course, is for the Rockets to live up to expectations.

"We're definitely not going to be the favorite nor should we be, we've proven nothing," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We've got players that if we get them to gel and go the right way we give ourselves a shot to make some noise."

Houston signed Howard to a four-year contract worth about $88 million after one season with the Lakers. They're hoping a change of scenery will help Howard re-establish himself as the top center in the NBA.

"I'm excited to be here and I just want to win," Howard said.

Howard played in 76 games last season, but admitted that he didn't feel right after offseason back surgery. His 17.1 points a game were the lowest he's had since he averaged 15.8 in his second season and the 12.4 rebounds were his fewest since 2006. The Rockets staff put him on a new training regimen and believe he's back to his old self.

Harden had to adjust on the fly last season after his last-minute trade from Oklahoma City and is grateful to his teammates and coaching for making his transition easier. He and the rest of the Rockets aim to do the same thing for Howard this year.

"We feel the same way about Dwight, making sure he's good and making sure he's in the best situations to be successful," Harden said. "And once we get him going everything will work itself out."

Howard presents an immediate challenge for Charlotte (21-61) on the boards, where Bobcats coach Steve Clifford believes his team's biggest weakness lies.

Charlotte made a splash signing free agent center Al Jefferson to a $40.5 million contract and drafting 7-foot forward Cody Zeller fourth overall to upgrade its frontcourt. But Clifford said the Bobcats only have two proven rebounders - Jefferson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, last year's No. 2 overall pick.

Clifford said "other than that we don't have guys that have been even average (rebounding) with any consistency."

That has the first-year coach a little concerned despite a roster that he views as significantly more talented than the previous two seasons when the Bobcats went a combined 28-120 - the worst mark in the NBA.

"The bottom line is this: We can get a lot better on offense and a lot better on defense, but if we don't get a lot better rebounding it may not matter," Clifford said.

The Bobcats didn't give themselves much of a chance last year.

They were 29th in the league in defensive rebounds and were outrebounded on average by 3.9 per game, also second-worst in the league.

"Rebounding is something this team has struggled with and to be the team we've got to be we have to improve that," Jefferson said. "There are no excuses. It has to be done."

Howard is averaging 19.8 points, 15.1 rebounds and 3.9 blocks over his last 29 matchups with the Bobcats.

Houston has won 13 of the last 15 meetings, including eight straight at home.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:04 AM

Preview: Magic (0-0) at Timberwolves (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 8:00 PM EDT

Although they played a total of 15 minutes together last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are hoping Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic can stay on the court long enough to help the franchise end its lengthy playoff drought.

Finally healthy, the Timberwolves should be feeling confident about getting off to a good start Wednesday night when they host the rebuilding Orlando Magic.

With a 15-14 start last season, Minnesota (31-51) believed it was in position to reach the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Those hopes, however, essentially ended when Love was lost for the season with a broken hand as the Timberwolves lost 37 of their final 53 games and finished last in the Northwest Division.

'We all know what happened last year," said Love, a two-time All-Star who averaged 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds in 18 games, "and we just want to move forward and take care of the unfinished business."

Rubio didn't show signs of returning to his prior form until early February as he recovered from the torn ACL in his right knee suffered the previous March, while Pekovic missed a total of 20 games with a variety of injuries.

The center finished second on the team with 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game before signing a five-year, $60 million deal this summer, showing that Minnesota believes he's part of its promising core.

Now the Timberwolves are counting on the talented trio to lead them to the postseason for the first time since Kevin Garnett took the franchise to the Western Conference finals in 2004.

'It's great to play with those guys,' Rubio said. 'They have a lot of talent. It's easy to play with them. We just have to get back our chemistry that we had. Last year we couldn't play a lot of minutes because of the injuries. But we are on the same page, and that's going to help.'

Since they shot a league-worst 30.5 percent from 3-point range, Minnesota sought to improve in that area by acquiring Kevin Martin in a three-team trade and signing Corey Brewer away from Denver.

Martin, who has been limited this preseason due to a sore Achilles, shot 42.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. Brewer hit a career-high 91 3s, while Love's return should help since he's a career 35.2 percent 3-point shooter.

The Timberwolves also are looking for a breakout season from former second overall draft pick Derrick Williams after picking up his contract option for next season, guaranteeing the $6.3 million on the deal.

Williams, who averaged 15.2 points over the final 33 games last season, has a chance to be the starting small forward while Chase Budinger recovers from a knee injury.

After finishing with the NBA's worst record last year, Orlando (0-1) continued its losing ways in a 97-87 defeat at Indiana in its season opener Tuesday. The Magic trailed by five at the end of the third quarter before the Pacers went on a decisive 17-4 run to break open the game in the fourth.

Andrew Nicholson had a team-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting Tuesday, while Maurice Harkless added 14 points. Playing close to where starred in college, No. 2 overall draft pick Victor Oladipo scored 12 on 4 of 11 from the field in his debut.

'There were a lot of Hoosier fans in there,' Oladipo said. 'I would have liked to have won, but overall it was pretty cool.'

Tobias Harris, who averaged 17.3 points in 27 games with Orlando last season, did not play due to a sprained ankle and is questionable for this contest.

After shooting 38.7 percent against defensive-minded Indiana, Orlando might be able to get better looks versus a Minnesota team that lost its defensive stopper when Andrei Kirilenko signed with Brooklyn.

The Magic have won eight of nine meetings with the Timberwolves, but lost 90-75 in their only trip to Minnesota last season.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:05 AM

Preview: Hawks (0-0) at Mavericks (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 8:30 PM EDT

(AP) - Dirk Nowitzki is healthy and ready for the opener with a revamped Dallas Mavericks roster.

A year ago, the big German was just days removed from knee surgery and had to watch a roster full of new faces for the first 27 games. That's the biggest reason a 12-year playoff streak ended for the Mavericks.

Nowitzki has two new guards in his starting lineup for the second straight year. Now the Mavericks have to see if Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon will be better than the pairing of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo.

Dallas will start getting answers Wednesday night at home against Atlanta.

There's also the question of who among seven other newcomers will join holdovers Vince Carter and Shawn Marion as key members of the supporting cast.

"Our mission this year is to get back to winning in the playoffs," said coach Rick Carlisle, who hasn't won a postseason game since guiding the Mavericks to their first championship in 2011. "And we know that there aren't a lot of people that think we're capable of doing that."

Odds are Dallas will be the third-best team in Texas again, behind defending Western Conference champion San Antonio and Houston, a playoff qualifier that got Dwight Howard in free agency to pair with James Harden.

What gives the Mavericks (41-41) hope is that they almost made the playoffs even with the huge hole they dug waiting for Nowitzki to regain something resembling the form of an 11-time All-Star and 2007 MVP.

Calderon looks like an upgrade over Collison because he was the best 3-point shooter in the league last season and has high-level international experience with Spain, if not any NBA playoff series victories.

Ellis has the speed and quickness to be a threat in the lane, and Carlisle says he's an underrated passer. The biggest question, though, is whether he will shoot too much when that's not his strength. He had the worst 3-point percentage among qualifiers last season.

"I think we'll find a mix of youth, experience, some drivers, some shot-makers," said Nowitzki, one of two returning starters along with Marion. "I think we've got a good mix, got a good bench."

Carter is generally the first player off that bench, and rookie point guard Gal Mekel should see significant playing time early in the season while the Mavericks wait for the return of first-round draft pick Shane Larkin (broken ankle) and Devin Harris (toe surgery).

Dallas has a defense-first center in 11-year veteran Samuel Dalembert after Chris Kaman struggled in that area last year. Brandan Wright was the backup before a shoulder injury sidelined him indefinitely, leading to more time for another newcomer in the undersized DeJuan Blair, who spent his first four seasons with the Spurs.

The Mavericks have trips to Oklahoma City and two-time defending champion Miami in the first month, along with two games each against West playoff contenders Houston, Minnesota and Denver.

"We've got to really focus on what's immediately ahead," Carlisle said. "We have to manage the club to have us tuned up for the long haul, too. So that's been a lot of challenges."

The first challenge has arrived in the Hawks, who are in Year 2 of their massive makeover.

The Hawks (44-38) have only two players who were with the team just two seasons ago, center Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague, opting for a complete transformation of a franchise that has long been a consistent playoff contender but never a championship threat.

General manager Danny Ferry started the process a year ago, letting go of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams to rid the team of two cumbersome contracts. This year, Ferry didn't make much of an effort to keep longtime stalwart Josh Smith, who moved on to Detroit, and replaced him with Paul Millsap.

While the Hawks have yet to become an attractive destination for big-name free agents - they were rebuffed this past summer by Howard, who passed on a chance to come home to Atlanta - Ferry hopes to change that by turning Philips Arena into San Antonio East.

Ferry once worked for the Spurs, and he brought in Mike Budenholzer, a longtime assistant under Gregg Popovich, to bring that same team-first mentality to the Hawks.

Budenholzer's tenure in Atlanta got off to a rocky start when he was arrested for DUI, and it's going to take some time for the players to adjust to the motion offense he wants to play.

"It's constant movement," Horford said. "We've got to make sure we're all on the same page. If we don't, then we look stupid."

Heading into his seventh season, this is clearly Horford's team now. He's the only holdover among the core group largely responsible for six straight trips to the playoffs.

Budenholzer is counting on his 6-foot-10 center to provide leadership on the court and in the locker room. Horford, meanwhile, is hoping the new system takes some of the burden off him - especially at the defensive end, where he's always been a power forward forced to play a post role.

"He has a high basketball IQ," Budenholzer said. "The first and most important thing is that he's on the same page as far as what we're trying to do. He's been really, really focused on picking up the system."

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:06 AM

Preview: Grizzlies (0-0) at Spurs (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 8:30 PM EDT

Tony Parker insists the San Antonio Spurs' veteran core has at least one more championship run left.

With Tim Duncan also back and Manu Ginobili re-signed, the Spurs begin their quest to atone for last season's heartbreaking title-round defeat Wednesday night against the team they eliminated in the Western Conference finals, the Memphis Grizzlies.

With Duncan, Ginobili and Parker having already played a combined 39 NBA seasons, there are questions of how long the Spurs can keep the three on the court and continue the franchise's run of excellence. Duncan is 37 years old, Ginobili is 36 and has missed significant time the last two years due to injury, and Parker is 31 but entering his 13th NBA season.

"I'm so excited to start with the Spurs and try to win a championship," Parker said when training camp opened. "I get another opportunity to get Timmy out with a championship. I'm ready to go."

San Antonio hasn't won fewer than 50 games in a non-lockout season and hasn't missed the playoffs since going 20-62 in 1996-97, a record that helped it take Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick in the subsequent draft. With help from their star forward, the Spurs have won four NBA titles and came within seconds of a fifth crown this past season until Miami's Ray Allen hit a tying 3-pointer late in Game 6.

San Antonio (58-24) again came up short in the deciding game against the Heat, leaving some to wonder if that was the franchise's last chance at a title with its current roster.

"I don't think it's time to heal all wounds yet," said Duncan, who averaged 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds in the NBA finals. "We're going to let it fester for a little while, we're going to continue to think about it because it's going to continue to hurt whether we talk about it or let it go or not. But once the regular season starts and the ball goes up, we are going to be focused on a whole 'nother season."

The Spurs did their part to keep their core together by signing Ginobili to a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. They also signed center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal this summer, and will keep Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph around through the 2014-15 season after picking up their fourth-year options Monday.

With help from those players, the Spurs will try to win a fourth straight Southwest Division title but might get a challenge from their opening night opponent, among others.

Thanks in part to one of the league's best defenses, Memphis went a franchise-best 56-26 in 2012-13 - finishing two games behind San Antonio - and advanced to the conference finals for the first time. The Grizzlies' run, however, ended with a sweep to the Spurs.

Memphis chose not to keep coach Lionel Hollins and will instead turn to former assistant Dave Joerger to lead the push toward an NBA title.

"We want to make a statement and make history, and that's what we set out to do each and every year," point guard Mike Conley said. "This year's no different. I think we just got to learn from our mistakes last season."

The Grizzlies have made a few moves to try to help that run, most notably re-signing one of their top defenders in Tony Allen. The swingman, inked to a four-year contract worth $20 million, got one more vote than LeBron James for the league's all_defensive team.

Center Marc Gasol earned the NBA's defensive player of the year, and Conley joined him on the all_defensive team after helping Memphis allow a league-low 89.3 points per game.

The Grizzlies added 3-point specialist Mike Miller, part of two title-winning teams in Miami. Memphis averaged a league-low 13.5 3-point attempts in 2012-13.

The Grizzlies also acquired Kosta Koufos from Denver to serve as Gasol's backup and lured guard Nick Calathes away from Europe to make his NBA debut four years after leaving the University of Florida.

"In order to take another step, you're going to have to be a little better," Gasol said. "Every step now really does take a lot of work from everybody. I mean everybody got to play a little better.

"Everybody got to be on the same page, which we already are."

Top scorer and rebounder Zach Randolph also returns for the Grizzlies, who will try to snap an eight-game losing streak in San Antonio that includes four playoff defeats. Randolph was limited to 11.0 points per game on 30.2 percent shooting in the conference finals.

The Spurs split four regular-season matchups with Memphis in 2012-13 as Parker averaged a team-best 25.5 points. He scored 24.5 per game in the teams' playoff series.

Conley averaged 18.0 points against San Antonio during the regular season but scored 15.3 per game on 38.3 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was held to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting in Game 4.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:07 AM

Preview: Thunder (0-0) at Jazz (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 9:00 PM EDT

Although Oklahoma City finished with the Western Conference's best record last season and has perennial MVP candidate Kevin Durant, the Thunder enter 2013-14 with a degree of uncertainty.

The prospects for the Utah Jazz appear a bit more clear, as they're focused on rebuilding.

Expected to be without Russell Westbrook for the first month of the season, the Thunder open up Wednesday night against a young Jazz team that must replace much of its offense from a year ago.

Westbrook originally injured his knee during the opening round of last season's playoffs against Houston, a series Oklahoma City eventually won before falling in the second round to Memphis.

He underwent successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus and appeared on track for a full recovery before the second surgery - a setback Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti said was minimized because of Westbrook's positive outlook and already strengthened knee.

Oklahoma City is accustomed to overcoming doubt, having gone 60-22 last season even after the trade that sent James Harden to Houston. That was thanks in large part to Durant's average of 28.1 points, as well as Westbrook's 23.2 points and 7.4 assists per game.

Westbrook's injury had a crippling effect at times on the Thunder's offense during the playoffs - with Durant's shooting percentage falling from 51.0 percent during the regular season to 42.1 in the series against the Grizzlies.

This season, Oklahoma City must once again overcome the loss of a key offensive piece, with guard Kevin Martin and his 14.0 points per game leaving for Minnesota.

The Thunder, who went 3-1 against Utah last season, are counting on several familiar faces to replace Martin's offense, including guards Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Jackson, in particular, surged in the playoffs last season, averaging 13.9 points after scoring just 5.3 during the regular season.

"We're very confident that we can (win the championship)," Durant said. "We're not going to come in and say, 'We can't win it all; we don't have enough.' We're a confident group of guys."

Oklahoma City is also looking for Serge Ibaka to shoulder a bigger load after he averaged career highs of 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds last season. He also led the league in blocked shots for a second straight season, averaging 3.0.

"We feel we're in a good position," Durant said. "That's all that really matters. If we come in here thinking we lost momentum or anything like that, that will mess us up. So, we just try to focus on each and every day and we'll be fine."

The Jazz feel like they're heading in the right direction, but they moved into rebuilding mode by shuttling four of their top five scorers after finishing last season at 43-39, just missing the playoffs.

Management hopes loyal followers will show patience as youngsters like center Enes Kanter, forward Jeremy Evans and guard Alec Burks become the supporting cast to Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward.

"It's going to be a challenge for sure but it will definitely be exciting. We are ready to take the next step and we can't wait for the season to get started. It's going to be quite a journey for this team," said Hayward, the team's top returning scorer at 14.1 points per game last season.

The Jazz showed their full commitment to the youth movement by signing the 6-foot-10, 263-pound Favors to a four-year extension that is worth more than $50 million with incentives. A similar deal for Hayward is in the works and is expected to be signed before Thursday's deadline.

"We will be looking to have Gordon and Derrick make big plays for us this year on both ends of the court," coach Tyrone Corbin said.

Corbin will be without Trey Burke for the first two to three months after he had surgery to repair a fractured right index finger. The ninth pick of the draft was set to be the starter at point guard, a job Corbin will now hand to journeyman John Lucas III.

The Thunder won't have center Hasheem Thabeet for the opener after he was suspended one game without pay by the NBA for head-butting New Orleans' Greg Stiemsma in a preseason game.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:33141 Followers:38
10/30/2013 01:09 AM

Preview: Trail Blazers (0-0) at Suns (0-0)

Date: October 30, 2013 10:00 PM EDT

Thirteen seasons have come and gone without the Portland Trail Blazers winning a playoff series, a drought that isn't lost on general manager Neil Olshey with the franchise coming off another disappointing campaign.

Portland, though, seemingly has the talent to contend in the loaded Western Conference this season unlike the rebuilding Phoenix Suns, who host Wednesday night's season opener.

The Trail Blazers have lost their last six postseason series since coming within one victory of the NBA Finals in 2000, and they missed the playoffs for the second straight year after ending last season on a 13-game losing streak to finish 33-49.

Olshey saw some positives to build on, though. Damian Lillard was named the league's rookie of the year after averaging 19.0 points and leading the league in minutes played, while LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 21.1 points and a career-best 9.1 rebounds.

Lillard averaged 24.3 points and 5.7 assists in helping the Blazers go 2-1 against the Suns last season.

Portland also got solid seasons from Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, and it acquired center Robin Lopez from New Orleans in the offseason to be the starting center.

'Look, the West is incredibly deep, incredibly talented. A lot of the teams returning to the playoffs probably feel like they have a seed locked up. But we're going to do everything in our power to get back in,' Olshey said. 'I think we're talented enough, the way our core four players played last year, supported by the new additions, they're going to give us a great chance.'

Lopez averaged 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season, and Aldridge is looking forward to getting some help down low.

'I just want a big to play with,' Aldridge said. 'I feel like I can go to the next level playing alongside him because he's going to block shots. If he doesn't block it, I can come block it.'

Olshey also made it a point to shore up the Blazers' depth after they received an average of only 18.5 points off the bench, by far the worst in the league. He drafted C.J. McCollum with the 10th overall pick and signed veterans Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Dorell Wright. He also traded for Thomas Robinson, who was the fifth overall selection in the 2012 draft.

Though McCollum will be nursing a foot injury for at least the first few weeks, Williams plans to begin contributing immediately.

"I'm just going to be a problem (for opposing teams)," Williams told the team's official website. "I'm going to be on everybody's scouting report because I feel like that'll take pressure off of (Lillard) and (Aldridge)."

Phoenix, meanwhile, put more pressure on its young group - as well as first-year coach Jeff Hornacek - by trading veteran center Marcin Gortat to Washington on Friday for the injured Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round pick. The Suns also sent 2012 first-round pick Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee in the deal.

It marked the most recent of many moves by new general manager Ryan McDonough, who has made no secret of his plans to reshape a roster that went 25-57 - the franchise's worst record since its inaugural campaign of 1968-69.

McDonough traded Jared Dudley in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee that landed young guard Eric Bledsoe on July 3, then dealt Luis Scola to Indiana for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first-round pick later that month. He then bought out the troubled Michael Beasley in September.

Phoenix, which drafted big man Alex Len at No. 5 and has been impressed with rookie guard Archie Goodwin, potentially will have four first-round picks in next year's draft.

"The night is darkest just before the dawn," McDonough said. "And I promise you, the dawn is coming."

That likely won't be this season, but Hornacek is excited to have the services of returning leading scorer Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, who missed all of last season due to a heart condition. At 6-foot-11, Frye can play both inside and outside, as he's a 39.0 percent career 3-point shooter.

Frye didn't expect to play until December, but he's way ahead of schedule and plans to play in the opener.

'He pushed himself,' Hornacek said. 'I was surprised in training camp. I thought he would get into it slowly and do a couple of things but he kept pushing through stuff, rarely sat out.'

Phoenix will be without Markieff Morris on Wednesday as he serves a one-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka in a preseason game.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs: