Oct 31, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
PHOENIX — After the Suns traded their projected starting center in Marcin Gortat to the Wizards in exchange for an injured player who might not play this season and a future first round draft pick, and did so less than a week before the start of the regular season, it doesn’t exactly send the message that Phoenix is all that interested in competing this season.
The leadership of the organization, from the president of basketball operations to the GM to the team’s head coach all had to talk to the players that remained the day following the trade to ensure that the message was clear: Develop, compete, and try to win as much as possible.
“I talked with them the next morning,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said about the trade before his team opened the season on Wednesday. “[Ryan McDonough] came down and talked to ‘em, [owner Robert Sarver] came and talked to ‘em. The main part was, you’re going to read a lot of stuff out there and hear a lot of stuff that we’re tanking, or this or that. Not once has anyone ever said, ‘Go out there and lose games.’ They want us to win every game we can, so we wanted to re-emphasize that with the players.”
Tanking, of course, happens at the organizational level, and happens by making trades like the one the Suns made involving Gortat. But no matter the circumstances, it never trickles down to the players or coaches, and Hornacek made it clear that things were no different in Phoenix.
“Is it a rebuilding process? Probably,” he said. “Does it benefit teams to have high draft picks? Yes, but we’re not just going out there throwing games to get that. I think that’s bad karma anyway to do that, so we’re going to go out and play as hard as we can, and try to win as many games as we can.”
After a fairly painless 104-91 opening night win over the Blazers, there’s no question that the team Phoenix is fielding is giving its all, at least in the early stages of the season.
The backcourt tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe carved up Portland to the tune of 48 combined points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. The Blazers had their reigning Rookie of the Year point guard in Damian Lillard pour in a game-high 32 points by himself, but besides a 28-point effort from LaMarcus Aldridge, no other Portland player finished in double figures.
The Suns got a monster game from Miles Plumlee, who came over from the Pacers in the trade for Luis Scola. He finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocked shots, while playing close to 40 minutes as the team’s starting center.
Plumlee had a few post-up plays called for him once he got rolling — a product, Hornacek said, of his increased ability from a footwork standpoint after working with assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison. And although he wasn’t expecting that, he appreciated the confidence his coach and his teammates showed in him after his strong start.
“With this team, I feel like I’m going to find easy things with Goran and Eric, so I didn’t focus on that,” Plumlee said. “But once I started getting a couple buckets and saw I had a little bit of an advantage with my speed, it was nice to see the ball come to my hands a couple of times.”
Bledsoe had a huge game offensively, even if he tended to over-dribble at times and didn’t exactly show the best court vision. He viewed his situation last season as being very similar to Plumlee’s.
“Me and Miles, we were a little bit kind of in the same situation,” Bledsoe said. “He was in Indiana playing behind some great players; Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi. Finally for Miles to get a chance to play man, he was just unbelievable.”
And as for the combination that Bledsoe and Dragic bring: “It keeps the defense on their toes,” Bledsoe said. “You saw it tonight.”
The Blazers saw it, and between the guard play, Plumlee’s breakout performance and P.J. Tucker’s contributions on both ends of the floor, the Suns looked like anything but a tanking team on opening night.
“We had a tough year here last year,” Hornacek said. “We’re trying to get back to where the Phoenix Suns belong, and that’s at the top of the NBA. It’s a good start for us, and I’m happy for our guys.”
Highlights of the first quarter of the Sixers win over the Heat, when Philly raced off to a 19-0 lead.
Metta World Peace took the subway (the F train) into Madison Square Garden for the Knicks opener and tweeted out his Instagram of the experience. We thought a picture is worth a thousand tweets so we bring you the Instagram instead.
Sixers 114, Heat 110: Take the defending champs playing on the second night of a back-to-back without Dwyane Wade who was held out to rest as a precautionary measure, put them up against the team projected by everyone to be the league’s worst on the road, add in a huge helping of disrespect, and this is the outcome you get. The crazy thing about this game was the fact that after the heat fell behind by 22 points in the first quarter, they actually led by eight with under five minutes remaining. But the Sixers closed on a 15-3 run to end it and come away with the improbable victory.
Suns 104, Blazers 91: We said plenty about this game up top, but here are a few additional notes that weren’t emphasized. P.J. Tucker was big as a hustle player, of course, but ended up with 18 points offensively, which included knocking down a couple of corner threes. The Suns’ defense wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but their guards caused havoc in the passing lanes and the bigs swarmed the post to make things difficult inside.
As for the Blazers, they’re going to have a tough go of it this season if Nicolas Batum doesn’t bring it consistently to match the effort of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge to give them that third offensive threat. There’s also zero bench on this team — Mo Williams finished 1-of-9 from the field, but no other reserve played more than 12 minutes or contributed much at all. Anyone predicting playoffs out of this team is wearing Rose (Garden) colored glasses.
(I know it’s the Moda Center now, and to that I say: Yeah, but still.)
Thunder 101, Jazz 98: This feels like how a lot of Thunder games are going to go until Russell Westbrook makes it back. Kevin Durant poured in 42 points, but was horribly inefficient in doing so shooting 9-of-24 from the field. He made 22-of-24 free throws which certainly helped, but the defense was locked in on him all night and it will be that way until he gets some help.
Odd night for Gordon Hayward, considering he’s looking for a monster contract extension before the end of the week. Just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting in only 28 minutes of action.
Rockets 96, Bobcats 83: Say “it’s just the Bobcats” all you want, but Dwight Howard looked dominant, and all the way back from any health concerns that may have limited in him in the first part of last season. He finished with 26 rebounds (!) to go along with 17 points, and Omer Asik had 14 boards of his own alongside Howard in the starting lineup. The only thing that kept this game close was Houston’s 18 turnovers to just seven for Charlotte.
Kings 90, Nuggets 88: Denver almost spoiled the party in Sacramento, which featured a raucous crowd celebrating the fact that their historically terrible team wasn’t sold and relocated to Seattle. Ty Lawson’s missed layup with a second remaining prevented overtime, and the Kings came away with the opening night victory.
DeMarcus Cousins impressed with a 30-point, 14-rebound performance that was a game-best in both categories.
Warriors 125, Lakers 94: With this Lakers roster you are going to get up and down performances — Tuesday night was up, Wednesday was way down. Then they ran into the buzz saw of Klay Thompson, who had 27 points in the first half on his way to 38 points on 15-of-19 shooting. The Warriors exposed the Lakers defense to the tune of 120.1 points per 100 possessions. Or we can note they were 15-of-27 from three. It was a clinic.
Cavaliers 98, Nets 94: Andrew Bynum was back and although he was 1-of-5 from the floor his size had an impact in the 7:43 he was on the court — he was a +8, the second best on the Cavaliers. Cleveland had balance with six players in double figures. However, the key was defense for the Cavs, holding the Nets to 40.2 percent overall (the Nets helped that with poor ball movement and a lot of overdribbling). After the game Kevin Garnett reminded everyone what they have a ways to go and this will be a process in Brooklyn. With that payroll, an expensive process.
Raptors 93, Celtics 87: It’s not like anybody in Boston noticed the Celtics lost, they were a little busy celebrating something else. Boston was careless with the ball and it cost them — 22 turnovers. The Raptors were in control of this up 16 in the third quarter, but Jeff Green helped inspire a comeback (he had 25 points) but it wasn’t enough. Rudy Gay had 19 for Toronto and was the man in the fourth quarter to hold off the Celtics rally.
Pistons 113, Wizards 102: Detroit’s front line lived up to the billing on Wednesday — Greg Monroe had 24 points and 16 rebounds, Josh Smith had 19 points and was very active at both ends. Andre Drummond was 6-of-7 for 12 points plus 8 boards. The Wizards had no answer up front (Marcin Gortat played 16 minutes off the bench). Trevor Ariza was the only reason it was that close, he had 28 points. John Wall was 8-of-21 shooting overall and 3-of-13 outside 8 feet, that’s not going to get it done.
Knicks 90, Bucks 83: It was a tale of two halves. The Knicks owned the first half, 56-31, with Carmelo Anthony scoring 12 points on just 6 shots, and the Knicks played defense. Then the second half and he Bucks shot 52.4 percent and outscored the Knicks 52-34. The Knicks held on for the win and that’s what matters, but this wasn’t pretty or one they’ll want to remember.
Timberwolves 120, Magic 115 (OT): Kevin Love ladies and gentlemen. He finishes with 31 points — including the three that ties the game and sends it to overtime — plus 17 rebounds. Kevin Martin has 23 for Minnesota and seven players are in double figures scoring. Aaron Afflalo has 28 points for a feisty Orlando team that has some of the same traits as last season’s versions — they fight hard for coach Jacque Vaughn but don’t have the talent to win many games.
Pacers 95, Pelicans 90: You can credit Paul George with getting the Pacers to 2-0 to start the season. New Orleans led most of the game thanks to Eric Gordon (25 points) and Jrue Holiday (24), even though the Pelicans only shot 40 percent as a team on that strong Pacers defense. However it was the Pacers that made plays down the stretch, led by George who had 32 points on 19 shots. This was a one-point game with 31 seconds to go, but it was a George Hill three that was the dagger.
Mavericks 118, Hawks 109: We have an efficient Monta Ellis sighting — 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Combine that with Dirk Nowitzki’s 24 points on 14 shots and you have a Dallas team that shot 57.1 percent and scored 117.3 points per 100 possessions. Dallas pretty much was in charge of every aspect of this game. They’ll win a lot of games if we see more of efficient Monta.
Spurs 101, Grizzlies 94: San Antonio took control of this game with a 30-7 second quarter and while the Grizzlies made it close late this was an easier Spurs win than it looked. It was vintage Spurs with a balanced attack — six guys in double figures and the team shot 52.6 percent. Zach Randolph did not help himself earn a big new contract next summer as the Spurs front line dominated him (without Tim Duncan much of the second half). Z-Bo was 1-of-6 shooting for 2 points and Memphis shot 41.9 percent.
Dec 13, 2013, 2:50 AM EST
Our quick look around the association on a busy Thursday night, or what you missed while worrying about what could happen to Santa’s home due to global warming… LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. I’ve been saying he is the best power forward in the game all season (yes, better than Kevin Love) and he showed…
Dec 13, 2013, 12:12 AM EST
There was a time when “Deron Williams or Chris Paul?” was a legitimate question worth debating. Not for the past few years however — D-Will has hobbled around with injuries while CP3 has assumed the title of best point guard in the game (with reason). But for a night, the debate could be on again.…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:46 PM EST
NEW YORK – Things were going almost perfectly for the Nets by the time the team suffered its latest injury blow, a sprained ankle to Brook Lopez that prematurely ended his night. Lopez returned to the game briefly after coming out to get the ankle looked at with four minutes or so remaining in the…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
NEW YORK – Deron Williams began the night by falling to the floor after being victimized by a crossover from Chris Paul. The fact that he stepped on the foot of teammate Brook Lopez was what ultimately caused him to crumble, but Paul’s action at least sent Williams sliding in that direction. In the second…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:30 PM EST
After trying to play through it for a month and it not really working, Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal is going to have surgery to repair the torn ligaments on the outside of his right wrist, the team announced Thursday. 1 of 2) @jermaineoneal will undergo arthroscopic surgery tomorrow to address a torn ligament in his…
Dec 12, 2013, 5:45 PM EST
We don’t need to tell you the Pacers are doing just fine without Danny Granger — they have the best record in the NBA (19-3) and knocked off the Miami Heat this week. Yet with Granger, they either will improve or they will have a potential trade piece to shop around at the deadline (or…
Dec 12, 2013, 4:43 PM EST
The Lakers, already without Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar due to injuries, will now be without Steve Blake until likely the start of February at least. Blake has a torn ulnar ligament in his right elbow at least six weeks, the Lakers announced. Speaking with the media, Blake said if he were a baseball player…
Dec 12, 2013, 3:25 PM EST
Glen Davis, even down to the lowest weight of his career, is big. After games, he’s big and sweaty. So, FOX Sports Florida’s Dante Marchitelli faced quite the challenge of staying focused during this, literally, touching interview. That man deserves a raise! Marchitelli, not Davis. Davis is paid just fine, and at least it’s his…
Dec 12, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
The Nets and Knicks have been the NBA’s two most underwhelming teams this season, but some statistical models predicted New York would slip. Few, if any, expected Brooklyn to struggle like this. From afar, I recognize Brooklyn’s troubles, but like most, I’m mostly numb to them. That’s certainly not the case for Kevin Garnett certainly,…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:33 PM EST
Rajon Rondo’s high school coach said Carmelo Anthony was recruiting Rondo, a 2015 free agent, to New York. As Kurt wrote, those types of conversations happen all the time. Of course, nobody publicly admits to them while they’re ongoing (except Chandler Parsons, who bragged about recruiting Dwight Howard to the Rockets). Anthony, via Ian Begley…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:32 PM EST
The Knicks need help on offense — a shot creator besides Carmelo Anthony — and they are looking at another point guard to get it. Multiple reports say the Knicks are now talking with the Toronto Raptors about getting Kyle Lowry, who became available when the Raptors picked up Greivis Vasquez in the Rudy Gay…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
Tom Thibodeau is represented by Creative Artists Agency. We have to start there. CAA and the Knicks enjoy an extremely harmonious relationship. The Knicks actually made Mike Woodson fire his agent and retain CAA, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher/Report. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: Once Woodson switches his representation to CAA, the agency will control…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:58 PM EST
It’s your game fans. The NBA All-Star Game is an exhibition filled with the players you vote to see. Whether those players deserve the honor based on their performance the first half of the season or not. Sometimes the most deserving guys don’t make the cut while guys hobbling through the season do. Which brings…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:25 PM EST
We present this to you with very little commentary on our part. Jim Brown is an NFL legend and an outspoken man about the African American community and how it fits in with overall American society. Brown was on the Arsenio Hall Show on Tuesday night and was asked to comment about Kobe Bryant’s return…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:35 PM EST
A lot of players have friends or family in the Los Angeles area (a shocking number live there in the off-season), so when they come to play the Lakers or Clippers they are looking to buy a few extra tickets to get those people in the door. There is always a scramble. Rudy Gay is…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:36 AM EST
It’s not that Brandon Jennings can’t play defense. He can. If you remember Jennings from the first couple seasons he was a solid defender on the perimeter. But that has changed over the years — he doesn’t seem to care about that end of the floor now, save for gambling for steals. He shows flashes,…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:56 AM EST
Zach Randolph has had his fair share of off-the-court issues over the years, but this is also a guy who gives back. He won the NBA’s Community Assist award for November for example: “As a part of the NBA’s Season of Giving, Randolph distributed 900 Thanksgiving food baskets at Booker T. Washington High School and…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:18 AM EST
The Knicks got an important victory on Wednesday over an undermanned Bulls team, because despite the fact that New York blew a 23-point lead before hanging on to win over the final few possessions, it relieved some of the pressure on head coach Mike Woodson. New York has been without key players due to injury…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:42 AM EST
The shoes worn by Michael Jordan in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals — the legendary “flu game” — have sold for a record price at auction. The red and black Jordan 12s went for an astonishing $104,765, shattering the previous high paid for a pair of game-worn shoes in any sport. ESPN.com has…
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