Even for hoops addicts, watching NBA preseason games presents a challenge.
The baseball playoffs are under way, the college football and NFL seasons are in full swing, and there is this small matter of a presidential election.
There is no subscription package for the preseason. League Pass takes a pass until the regular season starts later this month. So the only way you can watch games right now is on NBA TV, which isn’t part of the basic package of a number of cable systems, or on your team’s cable network, if it decides to televise the game.
And if you are fortunate enough to find a preseason game on TV, it looks like the NBA on ‘shrooms. The games are in hoops hotbeds such as Winnipeg, Fresno and North Charleston. Superstars are in suits, scrubs are starting, substitutions are seat of the pants and players are drawing up last-second plays, as Tony Parker did for French compatriot Nando de Colo on Wednesday.
But that isn’t all that’s going on. If you look closely, players, coaches and teams are tipping their hands just a little bit. Because it’s the preseason, it may be nothing. Then again, it may be something.
Here’s some of what’s been going on.
1. Those projected 70 wins for the Lakers may be a stretch
There is no shortage of anticipation surrounding the Lakers after they added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, seeing the “Big Three” collections in Miami, Oklahoma City, Boston and San Antonio and raising them one. However, that anticipation needs to be tempered as Howard remains sidelined while recovering from offseason back surgery, hoping to return in time for the regular season.
So when the Lakers opened their preseason slate Sunday against Golden State, Howard sat out. Meanhile, a large number of his lesser-known teammates tapped out. Over an 11:51 span of the second half, the Lakers were on the short end of a staggering 35-0 run by the Warriors.
During their empty stretch, the Lakers shot 0-of-15 from the field, 0-of-2 from the line and committed seven turnovers. The guilty parties included roster crud Greg Somogyi, Robert Sacre, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks and the immortal Reeves Nelson. But also held on the collective donut were Antawn Jamison, Chris Duhon, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and Earl Clark, who figure to collect the majority of the reserve minutes this season.
2. LeBron James is skipping Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace
If anyone was wondering whether the defending champion Miami Heat were going to rest on their laurels and use a full training camp to ease their way into the season, you can dismiss that notion.
The Heat and equally globally glitzy Los Angeles Clippers were dispatched to China to continue the hard sell of the NBA brand and – oh, yeah – play a pair of preseason games in Beijing and Shanghai. After skipping the team’s first game at Atlanta, Dwyane Wade played Thursday for the first time since offseason knee surgery. The minutes leaders were indestructible LeBron James and 37-year-old Ray Allen.
Coming off his hater-halting first championship, James should be less burdened by expectations more than any other time in his career. But that doesn’t mean he is basking in the glory. He is working on adding a skyhook to his repertoire. And he is not squeezing in sightseeing between games.
“It’s a basketball trip for me,” he said. “I know all about the culture. I’ve been there numerous times; this is my ninth time. I don’t need to balance it. I know what I’m there for.”
So do his teammates, who also seemed focused on repeating. Chris Bosh, who started at center in the China games and is expected to play the pivot on a regular basis, called the trip, “Good male bonding at its finest.”
3. The new “Bench Mob” in Chicago is not exactly Al Capone’s henchmen
The Bulls will be paying the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history this season despite letting go of virtually all of the players who comprised their bench over the last two seasons, when they had the best record in the NBA. Gone are Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. In their places are Nazr Mohammed, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic.
Although Chicago beat Memphis in its preseason opener, there was serious slippage in the second and fourth quarters, when the new “bench Mob” was on the floor. Lone holdover Taj Gibson said of the group, “We could do better.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau was more specific. ”I thought we held onto the ball too much at the end of the second quarter and the fourth quarter,” he said. “It created a lot of traffic for us and I don’t think we were sustaining our spacing. I also didn’t think we were making the right reads.”
There were more of the same problems in a 10-point second quarter in Friday’s loss to Cleveland.
The play of the bench is crucial for the Bulls, whose reserves are further weakened by the absence of superstar game-changer Derrick Rose. Until Rose returns sometime around the All-Star break, Kirk Hinrich – who is overjoyed to be back in Chicago but would be far more effective with limited minutes – is the starting point guard.
4. International basketball continues to close the gap on the NBA
Lost in the marvelous resuscitation of USA Basketball engineered by Jerry Colangelo over the last six years is the prevailing fact that the rest of the globe continues to close the gap on the best players in the world.
The evidence has been obvious in the form of Greece’s win over Team USA in the 2006 World Championships and Spain’s hard-fought losses in the last two Olympic gold medal games. It was reinforced this preseason as the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks – both of whom have won NBA titles during that same six-year span – lost to international squads in preseason games.
Yes, the games mean infinitely more to the international clubs, who had the benefit of playing before raucous home crowds. But consider the words of Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle after his team took a 99-85 beating from Barcelona of the Spanish ACB on Tuesday.
“I admire the way they pass, move the ball, cut and make screens,” Carlisle said. “They had the advantage the whole game. Barca is an NBA team.”
Before you think Carlisle was simply being gracious, consider that Barca’s roster includes former NBA players Juan Carlos Navarro, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Pete Mickeal and Nathan Jawai; Spurs property Erazaem Lorbek, who some say is the best player in Europe; Marcelino Huertas of Brazil and Joe Ingles of Australia, who play huge roles on their national teams; and NBA draft prospect Marko Todorovic.
5. Byron Scott doesn’t suffer fools, no matter where they went in the draft
Despite the fact that Dion waiters did not work out for any team before the draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers thought so highly of him – or so badly needed to plug a gaping hole at shooting guard – that they tabbed him fourth overall when he was projected to go in the second half of the lottery.
Given that Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving is their point guard, the Cavs could be set in the backcourt for the next decade. But that won’t happen until Waiters understands that this isn’t Syracuse, and he isn’t the BMOC anymore.
Byron Scott is trying to convey the message. Early in the final period of Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee, Waiters either ignored or botched a play and hoisted a long jumper. At the next whistle, Scott pulled Waiters and kept him anchored to the bench. “I drew up a play and he messed it up,” Scott said. “To me that was a lack of focus and I figured he didn’t need to play the rest of the game.”
6. Are the Hornets really going to start three rookies?
No. But they did in one preseason game this week. The obvious two are Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, both of whom are penciled in as starters when New Orleans opens its season vs. San Antonio on Halloween. The third rookie is a 26-year-old point guard named Brian Roberts.
The 6-1 Roberts played collegiately at Dayton, not exactly the epicenter of the NCAA. He then played a year in Israel before winning three straight championships with Bamberg of the German League, also not the hub of hoops in Europe. And if you think I knew this stuff off the top of my head, you’re nuts.
This I did know: Roberts earned a training camp invite with solid summer league play and has shown no drop-off thus far. Through the first three preseason games – including one start – he averaged 13.0 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 15-of-28 overall and 5-of-9 from the arc.
Roberts came back to earth a bit Friday, making just 2-of-10 shots. The competition hasn’t exactly been rugged; New Orleans’ first four games have been against Orlando, Charlotte and Houston, arguably the three worst teams in the NBA this season. But right now, Roberts appears to have the inside track on Chris Wright for a backup point guard spot.
TRIVIA: Irrespective of official title, which current GM has been in charge of his team’s personnel decisions the longest? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Jazz center Al Jefferson paid over $23,000 for a custom-made bed that measures 10 feet wide by 12 feet long, or slightly larger than my son’s bedroom.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace, telling the Los Angeles Times how he marvels at the ballhandling wizardry of new teammate Steve Nash:
“Nash should do a Vegas magic show. They should put his picture on the Flamingo hotel with a picture of him posing spinning the ball with his tongue out. There could be a bunch of strippers around him naked covering themselves with a hat.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia at Orlando, Oct. 11: 20 minutes, 12-14 FGs, 3-4 3-pointers, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, one turnover, 27 points in a 102-95 win. Holiday’s points-per-minute were 1.35 and points-per-shot were 1.93, huge numbers given he didn’t attempt a free throw.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Nate Robinson, Chicago vs. Cleveland, Oct. 12: 16 minutes, 1-11 FGs, 0-4 3-pointers, 3-3 FTs, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, four turnovers, five points in an 86-83 loss. The sparkplug provided a jolt for the opponents by accounting for a maximum of 14 empty possessions (10 misses, 4 giveaways) in just 16 minutes.
TRILLION WATCH: Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Kevin Jones got us going with a 5 trillion Tuesday vs. Milwaukee, quite a feat for a preseason game. The good news for Jones is that it was the preseason and doesn’t count – except in the memories of the coaching staff. Honorable mention to well-traveled Washington Wizards center Earl Barron, who had a 4 trillion Thursday vs. New York.
TWO MINUTES: No player has been compared more often – and more favorably – to Michael Jordan than Kobe Bryant, who began a war of words Wednesday with none other than former teammate Smush Parker. While trashing a handful of former teammates to local reporters, Bryant ripped into Parker in particular. “I tell Steve (Nash), you won MVP (in 2006) but I was playing with Smush Parker,” he said. “He’s playing with (Leandro) Barbosa. I’m playing with Smush and Kwame (Brown). My goodness. … Smush Parker was the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on.” Parker’s undistinguished five-year NBA career including two seasons with the Lakers when he did not miss a game, started all but two and averaged more than 11 points on 44 percent shooting, by far his best seasons. Now preparing for his third season in China, Parker was tracked down by blogtalkradio.com and lashed back, saying playing with Bryant was “overrated” because he was a bad teammate. “Midway through the first season, I tried to at least have a conversation with Kobe Bryant – he is my teammate, he is a co-worker of mine, I see his face every day I go in to work — and I tried to talk with him about football,” Parker said. “He tells me I can’t talk to him. He tells me I need more accolades under my belt before I come talk to him. He was dead serious.” Parker also told of plane trips where Bryant sat by himself and spoke primarily to his personal security guards and a team meal at a restaurant in Phoenix paid for by coach Phil Jackson at which Bryant sat at his own table in the corner, away from the rest of the team. This recalls Jordan’s visible disdain for lesser teammates in both Chicago and Washington; Steve Kerr said he and Jordan never spoke about the fact that both their fathers were murdered, and Scott Burrell once told me that he and Jordan never discussed their experiences in minor league baseball. To be as focused and driven toward greatness as Jordan and Bryant have been, there is an allowance for being somewhat of a jerk on occasion. And there is no rule that says you have to get along with all – or any – of your teammates. But there’s also no reason to treat them like second-class citizens, and it tarnishes their acclaimed greatness. … Stan Van Gundy would have been the best NBA on-air hire since, well, his brother Jeff. But his pending gig at ESPN apparently was vetoed by David Stern, according to TheBigLead.com. Van Gundy’s unbridled candor and cynical sense of humor would have injected badly needed life into ESPN’s NBA pregame show, where everyone takes themselves waaaaay too seriously. But he has had a long-running feud with Stern, who doesn’t take kindly to criticism of the league. When Van Gundy appeared on Dan LeBatard’s radio show in Miami, he was asked why he didn’t get the job and flashed his candor again, launching into ESPN. “What I find fascinating … you have to give David Stern and the NBA a lot of credit … ESPN pays the league, and then the league tells them what to do,” Van Gundy said. “It’s more ESPN’s problem. You gotta have no balls whatsoever to pay someone hundreds of millions of dollars and let them run your business. Just say what happened. Who cares? Who cares if I’m on there or not. Just come out and say this is what we decided and why.” Van Gundy was the first guest of Sheridan Hoops’ fledgling radio show, which should be debuting in the near future. Some team needs to hire Van Gundy and put him courtside or in a studio or somewhere. The NBA is a lesser place without him. … When Cavs star Kyrie Irving won Rookie of the Year last season, he shot 47 percent overall and 40 percent from the arc, outstanding numbers for a first-year player with that much ballhandling responsibility. However, he is just 13-of-46 through his first four preseason games. … Gaming website bovada.lv released championship odds and win totals earlier this week, and a couple of numbers stood out. Among the odds, both the Celtics and Spurs were 18-1 to win the championship, which seems a little long. Boston was one home win away from reaching the Finals a year ago, clearly has upgraded its roster and should have a high playoff seed based on Chicago’s issues. San Antonio was unbeaten in the postseason and two wins away from the Finals before being stopped cold by Oklahoma City, which players say they are using as motivation for this season. Over the last 5-6 years, have any teams been consistently better prepared for the postseason than the Celtics or Spurs? Among totals, the Celtics (50.5 wins) and Nets (44.5) seem remarkably low given that the bulk of their schedules are against the weaker Eastern Conference. On the high side are the Rockets (30.5), whose roster of unproven players is going to have a tough time reaching that total with 52 games against the West. Outside of the occasional pit stop at the craps table, our gambling days are behind us. But all of those seem worth an investment. … According to Spurs guard Tony Parker, new teammate and fellow Frenchman Nando de Colo may be Manu Ginobili with training wheels, which doesn’t exactly endear him to coach Gregg Popovich. “In a sense, he is, because he’ll do some crazy pass or go for crazy steals,” Parker said. “But he’s got a long way to be like Manu. So we can say he’s like a poor Manu right now. But he definitely has the skills and that kind of flash. I remember in a timeout Pop was joking, ‘I have one Manu. I don’t need two.’ You’ll give him a heart attack with two Manus on the team.”
Trivia Answer: Geoff Petrie of Sacramento. … Happy 58th Birthday, Ray Williams. … I hate to break it to Nets fans, but Brooklyn in black and white has already been done by The Honeymooners.
Chris Bernucca is the deputy editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.