Durant, Iguodala shine while Paul sits with injury


Durant, Iguodala shine while Paul sits with injury

LAS VEGAS With a day to ruminate on Thursday nights proceedings, here are some random thoughts on Team USA following its slaughter of the Dominican Republic in its exhibition opener:
LAS VEGAS With a day to ruminate on Thursday nights proceedings, here are some random thoughts on Team USA following its slaughter of the Dominican Republic in its exhibition opener:
While the game wasn't competitive in terms of the Americans' hopes in London, obviously forward Blake Griffins knee injury, which will sideline the All-Star throughout the Olympics (he will reportedly be back for Clippers training camp) put a damper on things, even if it happened at the previous day's practice. However, the naming of Anthony Davis as Griffins replacement eases some of the worries about the squads big-man depth. The strong performance of the No. 1 overall pick Thursday doesnt hurt either.
While Davis isnt the uniquely explosive athlete Griffin is (who is?), Davis length, shot-blocking ability and perimeter skills should come in handy, as he displayed the ability to step out and knock down long-range shots.
Although it certainly wasnt as serious as Griffins situation, starting point guard Chris Paul -- ironically, Griffins teammate -- was held out of the second half of the game due to a minor thumb injury suffered earlier in training camp.
When asked about it, Paul took a humorous approach, saying, Coach K was tripping, to tell you the truth. I wanted to play, but he wouldnt let me. It is what it is. Weve got a lot of games left.
As formidable as the teams starting unit -- Paul with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at the forwards and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler at center -- the evenings best player was clearly three-time league scoring champion Kevin Durant. The Thunder small forward put on a ridiculous shooting clinic and while his offensive firepower coming off the bench is a luxury, how long will it be until he replaces Anthony, a team captain, in the starting lineup?
But as well as Durant played, 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala was awarded the games MVP. With his combination of stifling defense and surprising outside marksmanship Thursday, the Springfield, Ill., native proved that he was worthy of being on the team. One of Team USAs final additions, Iguodalas selflessness is invaluable and hes one of the few players on the squad that doesn't need the ball to be effective.
No one will confuse this team with past U.S. powerhouse squads, simply because of its lack of size (the Dominicans, led by Hawks star Al Horford, often had a size advantage) but the teams versatility and ability to press defensively makes it a scary foe for future opponents.
Our pressure is ridiculous. The amount of ball pressure we can put on guys with me, D-Will Deron Williams and Russ Russell Westbrook, then Kobe and all those guys, said Paul. Were so versatile. We have shooters, we have athletes, we have defenders. Weve just got to go out there and make sure we play the game the right way, and as long as we do that, well get all the shots we want. Our biggest thing is going to be to defend.
Team USAs debut wasnt flawless, if one wants to nitpick. Of all players, Bryant seemed a bit out of sync offensively. He took multiple high degree-of-difficulty shots as if he were at the Staples Center instead of UNLVs campus, where the Vegas crowd seemingly egged him on. Also, while its intriguing to see the versatile James line up at center on occasion. One has to wonder how that lineup would fare against massive teams such as Spain, which features the Gasol brothers -- the Lakers Pau and the Thunders Marc, both 7-footers -- and Oklahoma Citys Serge Ibaka, the leagues leading shot-blocker. And of course, the Dominicans led at one point in the early going, 4-2, something the original Dream Team never let happen back in 1992.
Aside from Horford, the player on the John Calipari-coached Dominican republic team with the most professional potential may have been Karl Towns, Jr. Towns, a 6-foot-10 forward from New Jersey, entered the contest late and showed off his scary skills with a three-pointer, not an uncommon occurrence for the big man. A smart move by Calipari to add the youngster for future recruiting purposes; Towns just completed his freshman year of high school, where he won a state title at the alma mater of Lakers center Andrew Bynum and former Bulls guard Jason Williams.
For a debut performance, it was a strong showing and fans likely can look forward to even better play as the team continues to gain chemistry.
Practice is always one thing. The game is always the best indication of how youre going to feel, Pau said. That first couple of minutes, everybody was winded out there, too. I think it has something to do with everybody being so anxious and playing so hard and once everybody got that second wind, it wasnt too bad.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7


Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.