Bernucca: Spurs Aren’t Streaking, They’re Gliding

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lebron-wade1There have been some fair comparisons drawn between the current 17-game winning streak of the San Antonio Spurs and the remarkable 27-game run put together a year ago by the Miami Heat.

Both teams expect to compete for the NBA championship. Both teams found their rhythm at the most opportune time of the season. Both teams stormed to the league’s best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

There are obvious differences as well. For one, San Antonio still needs 10 straight wins – a run reached by only three other teams this season – to merely match Miami’s streak. Even if they win out, the Spurs will still come up one short of the Heat and have to resume the chase next season.

But here’s the biggest difference. The Heat were somewhat consumed by their streak. The Spurs are not consumed by theirs.

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Preseason Playoff Picture: Eastern Conference

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Kyrie Irving 2Who is crashing the playoff party in the East this season?

Conventional wisdom says the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and – barring a disaster – will secure the top five spots.

At the other end of the conference, you can probably toss out the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers, who could pool their rosters to come up with the 15 best players and still not make the playoffs.

That leaves three spots for the remaining seven teams. Last season, those spots went to the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. Some would argue that each of those teams took backward steps in the offseason and could wind up in the lottery.

The postseason door could be open for teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, who clearly upgraded their rosters this summer in an effort to play in May. But have they done enough?

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Tweet of the Day: NBA Players Reflect On 9/11

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It was 12 years ago today that the horrors of 9/11 were etched into the annals of history, yet the events of that day still seem so recent.

Two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City causing them to collapse and two other planes flew towards targets further south—one crashing in a field in Pennsylvania, the other hitting the Pentagon in Washington.

Today, as many across the United States take time to reflect on the tragedy that occurred so many years ago, so to do our favorite NBA athletes.

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Five Things to Watch: Milwaukee Bucks

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Brandon KnightCapping off a mediocrity-defining three-year stretch that saw them finish ninth, ninth and eighth in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks should have entered the summer of 2013 with change as the most obvious mandate.

As in change everything.

Despite a return to the playoffs and encouraging progress from big men Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson, the Bucks had little to show for their efforts last season, as coaching upheaval and a dysfunctional locker room motivated GM John Hammond to take a flamethrower to his roster once again.

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SH Blog: Jennings explains why he took bad shots in Milwaukee, Knicks sign Beno Udrih

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bjenningsBrandon Jennings has had his share of issues playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the past four seasons.

For one, he has never had enough talent to work with. The best players he has had the chance to play with include Corey Maggette, Mike Dunleavy Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino and Larry Sanders. Those are not exactly the most respectable names around the league if you’re talking about top-level talent (although Sanders has shown great potential). Jennings did once have Andrew Bogut by his side, but the big man, as most are aware, could never steer clear of devastating injuries, preventing the duo from ever being a formidable duo. He also had the one-year “experience” of playing alongside Monta Ellis, but not many ball-dominant point guards would be fond of playing with a player who needs the ball as much as they do.

When things aren’t going well and you can’t shake off the “middle-of-the-pack” label, you generally tend to feel negative about your situation, and we’ve heard plenty of rumors of Jennings wanting out of Milwaukee over the years. Now that he is out and has the chance to play with more talent than he may ever have had on an NBA team, he plans on changing up his style of play and more or less cited lack of talent as the reason for knowingly taking bad shots throughout his career. Vince Ellis of USA Today has details:

“They’re going to make my job a lot easier, and of course I’m going to make their job a lot easier,” Jennings said today at the Palace on front of Palace Sports & Entertainment employees and the media. “I guess you could say we can bring Lob City to Detroit this year.”

“I definitely have to change my game for this team,” Jennings said. “We have a bunch of great players.

“The things I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here – take all those bad shots – because we have so many pieces.”

A shooter will always be a shooter, so it will be interesting to see how Jennings adjusts his style of play now that he has more viable options on the team. Meanwhile, Joe Dumars explained why he went after Jennings, from Zach Lowe of Grantland:

[Q] What did you see in Jennings that made you think this was a player who could fit in Detroit?

[A] Look around at the point guards in today’s NBA and what has become very clear is that to have someone with the ability to score and distribute from the point guard position is key. I know Brandon Jennings is viewed as a “score-first” guy, and that’s OK with me. But he also averaged 6.5 assists per game. We needed that ability to both score and distribute from the point guard spot.

And to get more specific, we think he does a pretty good job running the pick-and-roll. We like the fact that when he comes off the pick-and-roll, that he puts pressure on you to defend his jumper and defend his ability to create. That’s a skill set we needed.

[Q] In contrasting Knight with Jennings, one little thing stood out: They are both good 3-point shooters, and Knight has actually been a little better. But Jennings takes a ton of 3-pointers off the dribble on the pick-and-roll, and shoots very well on those shots, while Knight takes most of his from spot-up situations — when he doesn’t have the ball until it is passed to him. Did you notice the same thing? It seems like that fits with what you’re talking about.

[A] You’ve done your homework. We like his ability to score off the bounce, if you will — to be able to pull up and make shots, and come off a pick and penetrate, and dish, and score those little floaters in the lane. We feel it’s imperative to do all of that in today’s game.

And now we have people for him to get the ball to. I’d also say this: We like his ability to see the floor. He shoots a lot, but it’s not that he doesn’t see the floor well. During the four days we were talking about the trade, we broke down hours and hours and hours of film of him, watching him, offensively, just watching his assists. Just watching to see: “Does he see the floor?” And for us, that really hammered it home.

All of that didn’t stop Dumars from saying he doesn’t even know who will start for the team at the point, from Brendan Savage of MLive Media Group:

“I don’t know yet,” Dumars said Tuesday after introducing Jennings in a news conference at The Palace. “I can tell you what Mo has told every guy from Chauncey to Brandon to every guy. He said, ‘Look, come in and earn it. I’m going to give it to whoever earns it.’ He said that to every single guy.

“He said, ‘Joe I’m not going to put myself in a trick box where I’m committing myself to something and it doesn’t play out.’ So, he’s kept it wide open. He said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ That’s exactly what he said. That’s exactly how it’s going to be.”

Quite the ringing endorsement for your supposedly-prized point guard when you don’t even know if he will start ahead of a 37-year-old, a second-round pick and a life-long bench player. In all likelihood, the notion that Jennings isn’t guaranteed a starting job is formality-talk more than anything else. Jennings has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. If he can raise his level of performance as a play-maker and shoot much better from the floor with better shot selection, it will leave no doubt that the reason for the issues he had in Milwaukee had more to do with the overall product on the floor than who he was as a player.

Onto other news from around the league:

  • Brandon KnightBrandon Knight says he can play with the best of them, from Gery Woelfel of Journal Times: “But while Rose and Wall quickly made their marks in the NBA after leaving college — Rose with Chicago and Wall with Washington — Knight is still searching to make his mark. Some NBA officials wonder if he ever will. Knight begs to differ. Acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks in a multi-player deal with the Detroit Pistons last Wednesday, Knight is extremely confident in his abilities and his potential. “I know I can play with them because I have already,” Knight said Tuesday following a press conference at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. “I played against John; I played against Derrick and I know I have the talent and the skill set and the physical stature to play with those guys. “It’s not a question; it’s just a matter of me going out and doing it. And it’s having the opportunity to do so.”

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