Month: October 2019

NBA preview: LeBron and AD are Lakers’ perfect power couple

by Scott Mandel

It is indisputable that some of the elite duos in NBA history ruled while playing for the Lakers. And, how many sports franchises’ can say their best players all became icons known by their first names like Magic, Kareem, Shaq, Elgin, Kobe (or Mamba), Wilt, and, The Logo (aka Jerry West)?

Jerry West and Elgin Baylor reigned during the 1960s and into the early 1970s, the two of them the force that propelled the Lakers to seven appearances in the NBA Finals. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were a supreme pair that won five championships together beginning in 1979. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant wreaked havoc from 1996 to 2004, dominating along the way to three consecutive championships from 2000-2002.

Now the Lakers have another electric combination in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, performers many see as having the potential to go down in Lakers and NBA lore as another special twosome.

“The Lakers have had these incredible duos and the Lakers have been successful because of that,” Johnson said. “You can’t have one. You always got to have two. Any time we’ve had two, it has spelled championships, you know?

“The thing about it is it’s always a guard and big man. It’s always a guy that handles the ball and always a dominant player inside. I think that these two, LeBron and AD, have their opportunity of making Lakers history along with the other three pair of us that won.”

West was an all-encompassing guard and Baylor a smooth-gliding forward. Abdul-Jabbar had the most unstoppable shot in history with his sky hook and Johnson was a magician as the point guard. Bryant was unyielding as a shooting guard and O’Neal was a power down low.

Now, James remains a do-everything forward who may be the starting point guard this season and Davis is a 6-foot-10 forward who is able to play inside and out.

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Golden State coach Steve Kerr grew up in Los Angeles as a Lakers fan and knows “the glitz and glamor” the Lakers brought to the game.

“You could see a big part of what the Lakers were trying to do was putting the stars together. Not that that was a novel concept, but most teams and most cities just couldn’t do that. It was just hard to do,” Kerr said. “But [Lakers owner] Jerry Buss was good at it and he found a way to keep doing it. So this makes sense, right? It’s a continuation of the blueprint and it’s such fondness to look at it from a historical standpoint but not so much fun to look at from a coaching standpoint of having to play against them.”

James, 34, is coming off his first season with the Lakers in which he played only 55 games because of a left groin injury and then stopped playing after they were eliminated from the playoffs.

But he still played at a high level, averaging 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists. He has become an iconic figure in the NBA by being a 15-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion, four-time MVP, 15-time All-NBA and three-time Finals MVP. James is 100 points (32,543) behind Bryant (32,643) for third place on the league’s all-time scoring list and 304 assists (8,662) behind Gary Payton (8,966) for ninth place on the all-time assists list.

Davis, 26, played in only 56 games last season with the New Orleans Pelicans because of injuries and eventually stopped playing toward the end of the season following a trade request.

Kyle Kuzma prepares to take a shot against the Nuggets during a game last season.

He was still a tower of strength, averaging 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He is a six-time All-Star, with three selections to the All-NBA team.

Davis sprained his right thumb during a preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday in Shenzhen, China.

“I think it will work seamlessly with LeBron and AD because it’s a true inside-out or true perimeter guy and a big man that has perimeter skills and versatility,” said Mark Jackson, a former NBA star and coach who is now an analyst for ESPN.

“They are two incredible basketball players and I think they will work seamlessly. I think the thing will be who plays around them. But I don’t think it’ll be an issue because they are two great basketball players who have been great from Day 1.”

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Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur Press Conference Transcript October 14, 2019

by Scott Mandel

Head Coach Pat Shurmur — October 14, 2019


Q: How did Saquon (Barkley) look today?
A: He was practicing.

Q: We saw Sterling Shepard out here a little bit during individual drills. Where does he stand after the concussion and how did he look?
A: He was out here practicing, doing what he can do. That’s it.

Q: Is he still in the (concussion) protocol?
A: He’s in the protocol, yeah.

Q: A lot of that is out of your hands…
A: It is out of my hands. We have our doctors… Anytime there’s an individual in the protocol or coming back from a concussion, the doctors will let us know when they’re allowed to be playing. So, that’s where we’re at. I really don’t have anything to add. I understand the interest in all of this, but there’s really nothing that I can add.

Q: A player being out here, if he’s very symptomatic, he’s not going to be out here, I would think, right?
A: Yeah. That’s fair.

Q: Do you know where he is in the protocol?
A: I can’t talk about that. I know where it’s at, but that’s not really something for public consumption. He’s in the protocol, and when he’s able to play, our doctors will let us know that and he’ll be playing.

Q: What does Saquon have to show you to play on Sunday?
A: He has to handle practice well and be ready to play. He practiced today, so we’ll see when he comes in tomorrow, how he feels. Then the next day and so on and so forth.

Q: Right now, what are your hopes for him playing on Sunday?
A: We’ll just have to see. I’m going to let the week kind of determine that.

Q: Did you watch any football this weekend?
A: I watched a lot of football. Most of it was Arizona, getting ready to play them, but I did see some of the games, portions of the games, especially the later ones.

Q: Your division is very bunched up between one, two and three.
A: That’s what they say. Our focus is on Arizona. You control all of that by winning games, and that’s our focus.

Q: What made now the right time to add a guy like (Javorius) Buck Allen, and in hindsight, do you wish you had a veteran the last two games?
A: No. We made the decision to do it now, and we’re glad he’s here. He was available, we worked him out and we’ll get him going as quickly as possible.

Q: How much was Evan (Engram) able to do today?
A: He practiced. He did a lot.

Q: We noticed he did not participate in the walkthrough you had last Wednesday. Was that a situation because you had already decided that he would not play Thursday, or he wasn’t ready to participate?
A: Each week is the same. You go through the week, and guys that are coming back from injuries, you try to determine whether they can play. It just so happened we had to kind of determine that through walkthrough settings. This week, we’ll be able to see more because they’ll be out running around.

Q: Last week, it didn’t seem like he was moving like his normal self. What did you see from him today in that regard?
A: I would say he’s better.

Q: It didn’t look like (Sam) Beal was dressed for practice. What’s the plan with him?
A: You can expect to see him on Wednesday.

Q: Why not today then?
A: Because we felt like starting him on Wednesday was better.

Q: So you’ll activate him off the IR for this week?
A: No. He has to go through… There’s a certain protocol that he has to… There are 21 days here. There’s some practice involved. We’ll just see where he’s at.

Q: What was sort of your Monday message, since the guys haven’t been here for a few days?
A: We’ll get back to work. I think that’s the important thing. Get back to work, put all of our efforts into winning our next game. I think that’s what every coach’s message always is. You just do everything that you can to win the next game. All of that other stuff outside, standings, where you’re at, all that, none of that matters. You have to put all of your efforts into winning the game, and then the rest of it will take care of itself.

Q: Did Wayne (Gallman) practice today?
A: He was out here. I can’t tell you exactly how much he did.

Q: One of the things that Saquon said when he was hurt and has said since is that he wanted to come back fast and then also come back and be better. He said 10 times better. It seems like he’s going to accomplish the first part. Can he be better than he was?
A: Yeah. He’s a young player still, so every time he comes out here, he has an opportunity to get better. I’m glad to hear those are his comments. I didn’t read them or I didn’t hear about those. But when you hear a player talking about trying to get better, and better by a large margin, I think that’s great.

Q: So Wayne Gallman is still in the protocol?
A: Wayne, yeah, he’s working his way through it. I really don’t want to talk about all of this, guys. When the guys that have concussions are ready to play, I’ll be made aware of it and so will you guys.


Q: As of last week, you guys had the fourth-youngest defense in the league. Obviously with roster shuffling, that could change a little bit. But it’s a young defense and a young team in so many ways. What have you noticed from them in terms of their personality or the group they’re kind of learning to be and becoming as the season moves along? I ask that knowing you had a long weekend to kind of catch everyone’s breath.
A: That’s a good question. We are young. Sometimes when you say young in this league, or you say injured in this league, it’s people making excuses for you. What’s important about our young defense is that I think they’re improving each week. Our young players have made significant contributions. Some of your young players can be your best leaders. The message to them is to continue to improve. I think we know from experience also that sometimes your youngest players make the most improvement as they go through it for the fifth, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth time. I think that’s where we’re at.

Q: You said you watched the Cardinals. What did you make of (Kyler) Murray? Is he just different than any other quarterback really coming through the league?
A: He keeps every play alive with his feet, certainly. They’re doing a lot of good stuff on offense. You see the reason why he was a dynamic player in college. He can make great throws from the pocket, but when the field gets spread out, he can take off and run with it. Especially in situational football where it’s third and short, or some of the third downs, or you get down in the red zone, they take advantage of his legs and his ability to move around. Not to minimize the fact that he’s an outstanding pocket passer. I think that’s what makes him dangerous.

Q: It was widely assumed that he would be the first overall pick, and obviously, you guys weren’t there, but how much work did you guys do on him leading up to the draft? What was your read on him entering the draft?
A: We did a lot of work on him. We weren’t surprised that he was the number one pick.

Q: Why not?
A: Because he’s an outstanding player. That’s why.

Q: What was your read on him scouting him as a college prospect. You kind of mentioned some of the things that he’s done in the NFL. What did you like about him coming out of college?
A: I think you’re seeing in our league all of the things that he did in college. That’s what makes him dynamic. He’s an outstanding athlete, can throw the ball extremely well and when things break down or he has a chance to move around, he does that probably as well as anybody.

VIDEO OF PAT SHURMUR

https://www.giants.com/news/saquon-barkley-evan-engram-among-key-players-back-at-giants-practice

Transcript of Champion Super Bowl Coach Bill Belichick’s Conference Call Today As Patriots Prepare for Giants on Thursday Night

by Scott Mandel

Q: What are the ingredients to creating and sustaining a winning culture?
A: That’s a tough question, probably a long answer, might need a book on that one. Honestly right now, my apologies, I’m just trying to prepare our team on a short week for a really good Giants team. A team that’s gotten a little bit of a spark. They are a dangerous, explosive team, they have to try turn it around on a short week. The question you asked is more than I can handle right now.

Q: Did you have a reaction a few weeks ago when you heard Eli Manning was benched? Obviously, Eli Manning has been around a long time, he has history with the Giants, certainly has history with your team. What are your thoughts on Eli, his situation and what he’s done in his career?
A: I have a ton of respect for Eli, he’s a great person, very professional, team oriented. I spent over a decade with the Giants, I have an appreciation for playing quarterback for that franchise in that environment. He’s done a tremendous job, and certainly had a lot of success against us. I have a great deal of respect for him. I’m really focused on trying to coach our team and I need to do a better job of my job and not really looking to evaluate what anybody else is doing. I have my own full plate here, I’m trying to coach the Patriots.

Q: What is your impression of how your defense is playing this early and seemingly this well?
A: We’ve had our moments. Right now, it’s about focusing on the challenge ahead with the Giants. The Giants have so many weapons on offense, a great tight end, two great quarterbacks, probably the best running back in the league, very good receiving group. They are very experienced on the offensive line, they added a lot of players there in the last couple of years. Solder, Zeitler, Remmers and, of course, Hernandez, Halapio has done a good job for them. Those guys have played together, they are in there every week, they haven’t really had any changes all year. They have (Golden) Tate back now, they have a ton of weapons offensively. Well coached, they have a great scheme, they are a well-balanced offense. That’s a lot for me, a lot for us to handle, to try to prepare for and for our players to get ready for all the things that they do and do well. They can run it; they can throw it, throw it deep, throw it to the backs, throw it to the tight end, catch and run plays, play action drop back, misdirection, you name it. It’s a lot to get ready for.

Q: What is different about the Giants offense with Daniel Jones at quarterback?
A: Offensively, it’s probably the same plays. Eli is very good at the line of scrimmage of making adjustments and protections and occasionally signaling routes against pressure and things like that. He may have done a little more of that on the line than Jones has. Jones is fast, and he’s made plays with his legs outside the pocket. The Tampa game comes to mind right off the bat. He’s got the ability to extend plays and also run for yardage to score or pick up critical first downs. He has kind of the sixth receiver element. Both guys are very accurate passers, see the field well, make good decisions. They are at different stages of their career, but both guys are outstanding players. Any team would like to have either one of them and they are fortunate they have both.

Q: I know you guys had Jones up there for a visit pre-draft and I’m just curious what your impressions were of him before the draft, and has he looked like the player you thought he could be?
A: Yeah, we had a great visit. He spent most of the day here, actually spent a lot of time with our offensive coaches, with Josh (McDaniels) and Mick Lombardi, guys that work with that position on the offensive side of the ball. We had a great conversation, talked about a lot of things. He’s very mature, certainly a good understanding of the Duke offense and Coach Cutcliffe and the things that they were doing there. Again, a good grasp of the offensive system—protections, routes, route concepts and why they’re used in different combinations and in certain situations. Actually, I think it was kind of a change of plans, but at the end of his visit, I think he said he had to go somewhere, but then he ended up going to the Giants from here, so even I could figure out there was something going on there. He’s an impressive player and a very impressive person. We had a great visit, and again, playing quarterback in New York is not the easiest thing in the world, but he’s got a lot of maturity and a good head on his shoulders and has good perspective on football and the overall leadership position that comes with that role on and off the field. So, I’m sure he’s done well and will continue to do well.

Q: You’ve never faced Saquon Barkley, but you’ve seen him on film, and I guess his availability is in question for Thursday—what kind of dynamic does he bring to the Giants to change their offense?
A: He’s an outstanding player. You’re right, we haven’t faced him, and I hope we don’t, but we need to be ready for him. He’s a very competitive guy, I’m sure he’s doing all he can to get ready to go. He was close last week, so we’ll probably get him. He can do it all. He’s got great power, speed, they use him well in the passing game. He’s very hard, obviously, to tackle in the open field, he’s hard to tackle anywhere. He’s got good vision, good quickness, he can play in space, he’s elusive, he’s got power, he had 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year. That pretty much says it all right there. Plus, we know he can return kickoffs and everything else, so he’s got a ton of skill, as good as any back we’ve seen on film. We watched a lot of him last year, we didn’t expect him to play in preseason, but just kind of getting ready for the Giants in the preseason we saw a lot of last year’s film and what a player he was for them. And he was an explosive player and a dynamic player this year. I’m sure he’s either going to be back or is close to being back, so we have to be ready for him.

Brady is missing Gronkowski and others but has been solid, if not spectacular

Q: What made Nate Solder such a valuable member of your organization when he was there?
A: Nate did a great job for us. His first year, he played behind (Matt) Light, played right tackle, played tight end, and so forth, he played about half the time, but it was in a variety of positions. Then, after that, he took over at left tackle and gave us really solid play there for a number of years.

Q: I know you focus on your team exclusively, but are you mindful at least that two of your quarterbacks (Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo) with the Colts and 49ers are having a lot of success this year, and you had them and did a lot to develop them?
A: Well, that’s kind of the way it is in the National Football League. Every team has players that were on their team that are playing somewhere else and some of them are doing well, and maybe some of them aren’t playing anymore, but that’s the league. There’s plenty of movement throughout the league at all positions with every team. If you follow the NFL, that’s pretty much the same for every team.

SportsReporters’ 2019-20 NBA Previews: Los Angeles Clippers (or, are you kidding me with this talent pool?)

by Scott Mandel

Today, we’re looking at the LA Clippers.

2018-19 season record

48-34 (8th in the Western Conference)

Projected 2019-20 season record

55-27 (tied for 1st in the Western Conference)

Notable additions

Kawhi Leonard (free agency)

Paul George (trade)

Maurice Harkless (trade)

Patrick Patterson (free agency)

Mfiondu Kabengele (draft)

Notable departures

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (trade)

Danilo Gallinari (trade)

Wilson Chandler (free agency)

Depth chart

Starter2nd3rd4th
PGPatrick BeverleyLou Williams
SGPaul George*Landry ShametJerome Robinson
SFKawhi LeonardMaurice HarklessRodney McGruderTerance Mann
PFJaMychal GreenPatrick PattersonMfiondu Kabengele
CIvica ZubacMontrezl Harrell

George is hoping to return “November-ish” from offseason shoulder surgeries

3 key storylines

What will Kawhi Leonard do for an encore?

Leonard is coming off of the best season of his career. While he missed more than a quarter of the regular season, mostly due to load management, he had a historic postseason that culminated in the Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever championship.

Leonard has since seen his stock go through the roof, with our NBA.com Staff ranking him as the best player in the league entering the 2019-20 season.

With that comes high expectations. Not only are the Clippers expected to finish with the best record in the Western Conference next season, they enter the season with the second-best odds to win the title.

For the Clippers to live up to that hype and potentially win their first championship in franchise history, they’ll need Leonard to be every bit as good as he was last season.

There’s some history on the line for Leonard as well. If he adds another Finals MVP to his trophy case, he’ll become the first player in NBA history to win the award on three different teams.

When will Paul George return?

And more importantly, what will Paul George look like when he does?

Like Leonard, George is coming off of the best season of his career. In averaging 28.0 points per game and leading the league with 2.2 steals per game, he received the third-most votes for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

George didn’t finish the season on a particularly strong note, though. Due in large part to a shoulder injury, he saw his production decline in the final 18 games of the regular season. He then struggled with consistency in Oklahoma City’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs, combining for 19-for-61 shooting (31.1 percent) in three of the five games.

George has since undergone surgery on both of his shoulders and is expected to miss the start of the season, eyeing a “November-ish” return.

Having parted ways with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a boatload of draft picks to acquire him, the Clippers are betting big on George being more like the player he was in the first half of last season when he does return. If he can, the Clippers could very well have the best duo in the league in George and Leonard. They might even have the league’s best defensive duo since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

The center position

If there’s one position the Clippers are lacking depth heading into the season, it’s centre.

They have two viable options in Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell, but it remains to be seen if they can handle their own against the league’s best centres. Zubac played well after the Clippers acquired him last season, but he’s both young and inexperienced. Harrell, meanwhile, was a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year last season but he’s undersized at 6-foot-8, making it tough to matchup with the likes of Joel EmbiidNikola Jokic and Anthony Davis – three players the Clippers could very well face in the playoffs.

The Clippers appeared to have Joakim Noah in mind for their final roster spot, but Sean Deveney of Heavy reported that his workout with the team ahead of the season was postponed. If Noah doesn’t end up being the answer, their best options on the free agent market are Amir Johnson, Marcin Gortat and Salah Mejri.

The Clippers could otherwise look to make a trade at some point of the season or wait to see if anyone gets bought out. They’d certainly be able to make a compelling case to any free agent, offering both minutes and an opportunity to compete for a title.

BREAKING NEWS: Mets Fire Mickey Callaway Despite 86-76 Record

By Scott Mandel

FLUSHING, N.Y., October 3, 2019 – The New York Mets today announced that they have relieved Manager Mickey Callaway of his duties, effective immediately.

“We want to thank Mickey for his consistent work ethic and dedication over the last two seasons and I’m certain these characteristics will serve him well in his next opportunity,” Mets Executive Vice President & General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “A decision like this is never easy, however, we believe it is in the best interest of the franchise at this time.”

Callaway posted a 163-161 (.503) record during his two seasons with the Mets. Callaway was named the Mets 21st manager in club history on October 23, 2017.

Football Giants May Get Saquan Back as well as Golden Tate

By Scott Mandel

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was 88 degrees here this afternoon, but to Golden Tate it created emotions oddly similar to those experienced at another time of year.

“It felt like Christmas to me,” he said.

Tate to make season debut after 4-game suspension

Tate was the proverbial child receiving a long-anticipated gift. After missing the first month of the Giants’ season while serving an NFL suspension, Tate practiced with the team for the first time since the final week of August, on a day strangely hotter than it was then. He will make his season debut on Sunday, when the Giants host the Minnesota Vikings.

“It was good,” Tate said. “I felt like I was moving around pretty well. Obviously, I just need to catch my wind a little bit. But I felt like I was pretty sharp for the most part. You had guys like (Sterling) Shep(ard) and Cody (Latimer) that helped me if anything popped up.

“I missed these guys, I missed the chatter, the music, the warmups, I missed everything about it. Just being around the guys, it was special. Something that I definitely value. Just excited to get back out and compete. It was great.”

Tate spent his enforced absence at his home in San Diego working out with Melvin Gordon, the Los Angeles Chargers’ running back who ended his holdout last week. Though they attempted to make their sessions as rigorous as possible, NFL football is a game that cannot be replicated away from a team’s practice environment.

“It’s hard to simulate football without playing football,” Tate said. “So much goes into it. I was running a lot, and I felt like I was in shape. But until you have that first practice, that’s when you learn – today was also an 88-degree day, so that could have something (to do with) it. The biggest thing is I think I’m strong enough where I won’t go out and pull any muscles or tendons, so that’s the most important thing. My wind will come over the next few days, I would expect. Coach (Pat Shurmur) is doing a great job of taking care of me.”

Tate brings skill, speed, experience and 611 career receptions to an offense that has been on an upward curve since rookie Daniel Jones became the starting quarterback two weeks ago. He should step right in and join Shepard and tight end Evan Engram as Jones’ favored targets.

“Obviously, he’s a guy that’s played a long time, he’s caught a lot of balls,” Jones said. “He’s a really good player, he gives us another weapon, another tool on offense. Excited to have him back out there for sure.

“I worked with him a little bit (in the preseason). The week of the Patriots game especially, I worked with him a little bit. We all worked with everyone throughout camp and throughout the preseason, I feel comfortable with him, I think he feels comfortable with me, so I think we’ll be on the same page.”

Tate has played in 137 regular-season games with 100 starts, so he knows how to prepare during the week and can anticipate what will happen on Sunday, both physically and mentally.

“With this being my 10th year, I feel like I have a good beat on what to expect,” he said. “I guess the biggest thing would be being used to the physicality of the game. That first time I get out there, getting off a release and actually getting jammed, or getting pads put on me and being knocked off my path. Or when I do make a catch, getting hit and trying to have that body control down to the ground. I would probably say that’s the biggest thing. Maybe the speed. The speed is obviously going to be a little bit more than it is in practice, especially against this defense that flies around. I think I’ll adjust pretty quickly.”

That might take a little more time against the Vikings, who line up with one of the NFL’s most formidable defenses. Minnesota is ninth in the league in passing yards allowed with 218.5 a game.

The good news is that this is a very familiar foe for Tate. He spent 4½ seasons with the Detroit Lions, one of the Vikings’ NFC North foes. He has played 10 games against them and his 50 receptions vs. Minnesota is his second-highest total vs. any opponent (Green Bay, 52).

“I believe (that helps),” Tate said. “I’m very familiar with majority of those guys on that defense. I used to play them twice a year. I know them a lot, but with that being said, this is a very hardnosed, tough defense that we’re playing.”

The other part of that equation, of course, is that had these teams met a week ago, the Vikings would not have had to contend with Tate. Now they have to prepare for him with no game action to study to help them discern how the Giants might use him. Tate wants to contribute not only statistically, but to the chemistry on an ascending offense.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “(I am) just another option. It’s no secret that yards after the catch is something that I specialize in. I feel like I can take that five-yard pass and turn it into an explosive play, which is what we might need a time or two this season. I don’t mind going through the middle. I don’t mind blocking. I think I can make big plays. Just another complete receiver on top of the guys that they have like Cody, Shep, Evan and Wayne (Gallman). We have a lot of guys that can make plays. Just another option that hopefully is going to make it easier for D.J. and harder for defenses to cover.”

That itself is a pretty good srecei

Barkley running and cutting today

*Saquon Barkley officially did not practice today, but he was on the field for the first time since spraining his right ankle 10 days ago at Tampa Bay. After going through some rehab drills, he stood with his fellow running backs and was both cheerleader and observer. And afterward, Shurmur was asked if this week’s game is too early for Barkley’s return to the field.

“I don’t know yet,” Shurmur said. “We’re just going to see where he’s at. He’s out there moving around. I’ve seen him moving around. I guess this is the first opportunity for you guys (reporters) to, so that’s probably why it’s a point of interest.”

Image result for Saquon Barkley running today
Barkley was running and cutting today at practice, two weeks after his injury, despite the high ankle sprain prognosis of 8 weeks

*Linebacker Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and guard Kevin Zeitler (shoulder) also did not practice.

Four players were limited: running back Wayne Gallman (neck), tackle Nate Solder (neck) and linebackers Lorenzo Carter (neck) and Tae Davis (concussion).

“We have a bunch of guys here that this time of year, it’s just game soreness,” Shurmur said. “I’m not really concerned about (them). … Just game soreness stuff. This time of year, it kind of creeps up. By the end of the week, most, if not all, of these guys will be ready to go.”

SportsReporters’ 2019-2020 NBA Previews: Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets enter the 2019-20 NBA season with very different expectations than they did a season ago. Lots of teams enter training camp talking about culture and/or how they’re being overlooked. Well, the Nets were one of the few teams that were right in 2018-19. They entered last season having won only 28 games the season prior and ended the season with 42 wins and a playoff berth.

The Nets swapped out D’Angelo Russell for Kyrie Irving, they return a fully healthy Caris LeVert and they still have Kevin Durant to look forward to in 2020-21. Further, they fleshed out their depth at the center position and swapped out Allen Crabbe for Taureen Prince. Long story short, the Nets are ready for the national spotlight. Now they’ll have to live up to the hype instead of playing above expectations.

You have to give coach Kenny Atkinson, a local guy from Long Island who played point guard at the University of Richmond, credit. He’s changed the culture of this moribund organization know mostly for its losing ways. The Nets became contenders quickly – going from the laughing stock of the league to the envy of it in about two years. Even with Durant missing most – or probably all – of 2019-20, the Nets will still boast top-10 talent.

They’ll be fun this season and if Durant returns to form in 2020-21, look out. The one caveat for 2019-20 is if Kyrie can put his ego aside and be the Nets on-the-court leader. He struggled to do so in Boston. But last year was a learning opportunity and Irving should be better prepared to be a team-centric leader with the Nets this year.

Sean Marks, their general manager who learned how to construct an NBA team from the geniuses in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich and the general manager, R.C. Buford, inherited a mess of a team when he took over in the front office, and he’s done a remarkable job of cleaning it all up and putting a real contender together. Brooklyn has become a destination for marquee players and that was evident this past summer. Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple, and Wilson Chandler were solid pickups. Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs were spot on draft picks. It will be huge if this team can manage to win a playoff series while Durant recovers.

Key Players:

Jarrod Allen

A major knock on Jarrod Allen was on full display in the postseason last year against Joel Embiid and Philadelphia. Embiid made a habit of bullying Allen in the post, and Allen simply couldn’t hold his ground. But according to Nets Daily, Allen added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, which will come in handy when battling bigger and more physical opponents – and which could help separate him and other above-average rim protectors as early as this season.

Top Playmaker: Spencer Dinwiddie

Spencer Dinwiddie attacks the basket with supreme confidence – he averaged a career high 6.6 points in the paint in 2018-19. But he can also dish the rock, too. He averaged 6.6 assists per game in 2017-18 and 4.6 in 2018-19.

He’ll probably play alongside Irving a bit but since the Nets lack true point guards, he’ll also almost certainly rack up minutes as the lead guard for the Nets’ second unit, allowing him to demonstrate his ability to create for others.

If Dinwiddie can shore up the second unit, the Nets will – once again – boast two top-tier point guards. And the drop off from Irving to Dinwiddie might be the smallest across the entire league as far as starting and backup point guards is concerned, which is a huge buoy to a team’s offensive continuity.

Top Clutch Player: Joe Harris

Joe Harris gained national attention in the last year or so, thanks entirely to his shooting ability. Harris is definitely more than just a shooter, but he is also a certifiable assassin from long-range. He shot 45.9 percent from three-point range last season and ran around screens at an elite level – according NBA.com, Harris ranked 5th in the league in average speed on offense at 5.17 mph. He also shot 47.9 percent on 4.2 attempted catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game.

Also, his time with Team USA this summer should only improve his game and work ethic, having been exposed to superstars and their processes, including Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum.

Harris’ unassuming approach and demeanor also make him a perfect fit with other similar-minded Nets like Jarrett Allen. And having a team-first shooter like Harris is a must for teams hoping to compete for a championship (e.g., Kyle Korver).

The Unheralded Player: Caris LeVert

It might be a stretch to call LeVert unheralded, but the presence of guys like Irving and (eventually) Durant will allow him to fly under the radar, even after a quasi-breakout year last season.

Fresh off of a three-year extension with the Nets, LeVert can now put financial distractions aside and focus exclusively on his game – not that that’s been an issue. He looked primed for an All-Star selection through the first few weeks of last season, but an ankle injury derailed his year and cost him more than 30 games.

A healthy LeVert will benefit from the increased offensive threat that is Kyrie Irving. He is an ideal third option alongside Irving and Durant come 2020. But LeVert will happily develop his game as the second option this season next to Irving – and the Nets could find themselves contending for an NBA title if LeVert takes his game to the next level.

Best New Addition: Kevin Durant

As much as Durant doesn’t affect the on-the-court product this season, building a dynasty is about much more than one year. Durant’s addition truly validates the Nets ascension. They have completely arrived as a force to be reckoned with. Irving was a great addition and boasting a strong core and excellent coaching staff is equally important, but adding a top-three active player moves the needle in the NBA like few other things can. Durant has the luxury of being patient with his rehab and recovery. While rumors already began to circulate about Durant’s return thanks to video of him walking without crutches in Los Angeles this summer, it’s more likely than not that Durant takes his time and returns at the start of the 2020-21 season. And the Nets should do everything in their power to ensure that is the case – unless his recovery is so far ahead of schedule that the team and every expert available all agree that he there is no doubt he is back to 100%.

2. DeAndre Jordan

As much as Allen is the Nets’ defensive anchor, he struggled defending Embiid in the playoffs (as stated above). Jordan’s game is very similar to Allen’s, only he is 10 years older and approximately 30 additional pounds heavier. Having two starting-caliber centers who can’t share the floor with one another – neither of them can stretch the floor – might be unusual for the modern NBA, but it also guarantees that they’ll always have a shot blocker and rim runner available. Signing Jordan to a four-year deal with no team options was curious, but he’s obviously a good addition.

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can Kyrie Irving play nice with others?

It’s hard to say so with certainty. His recent past doesn’t speak highly of his ability to do so. He abruptly asked for a trade from Cleveland, and then he wore out his welcome in Boston thanks to an allegedly holier-than-thou attitude.

But Brooklyn might be different. After all, he likely won’t have to endure any prolonged periods of subpar play, which could change his thinking on things – and that probably won’t happen given the level Coach Atkinson had his team operating at last year.

And further, Irving had selected Brooklyn as his destination of choice. While he requested out of Cleveland, Boston was not on his short list of preferred teams. We haven’t seen a prime, locked-in Irving since the 2016 NBA Finals. His recent experiences will serve him well in his dealings with Durant, LeVert and his other teammates.

Additionally, Irving’s played for some accomplished coaches – but none as universally loved by their teams as Coach Atkinson is in Brooklyn. And because of that, Atkinson can get even more out of Irving than did Mike Brown, David Blatt, Ty Lue or Brad Stevens.

So if Irving is willing to be a big brother to his teammates and help lead the way, he’ll have the requisite support of his coaches – and that could result in the 2019-20 version of Irving being the best we’ve seen yet.

SportsReporters Will Preview the Upcoming 2019-2020 NBA Season: Houston Rockets (with Westbrook, Harden and Just One Basketball)

by Scott Mandel

The Rockets made a bold decision this offseason in trading Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook.

Coming off a season in which he averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 rebounds per game, Westbrook is still very much one of the best players in the league. Perhaps more importantly to the Rockets, he’s both better and more durable than Chris Paul is at this stage of his career. Paul almost helped the Rockets make the NBA Finals in 2017-18, but he had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2018-19 – a worrying sign for an undersized point guard entering his mid-30s.

However, Westbrook is neither the shooter nor defender that Paul is, the combination of which complicates his fit next to James Harden, the league’s leader in usage and shot attempts last season.

James Harden will have to learn to share the ball with Russell Westbrook

With four years and around $170 million remaining on Westbrook’s contract, the Rockets are betting big on him and Harden being the duo that can lead them to a championship in what should be a wide open Western Conference. If they can’t, Westbrook’s contract will make it difficult for the Rockets to flip him for someone who better complements Harden while he’s still in the prime of his Hall of Fame career.

Does Eric Gordon have another gear?

Other than Westbrook, the biggest move the Rockets made this offseason was signing Eric Gordon to a four-year, $75.6 million extension.

Gordon has been a huge part of Houston’s success in each of the last three seasons. He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in his first season with the franchise and finished second behind LA Clippers guard Lou Williams for the award in 2017-18. He then started in 53 of the 68 games he appeared in last season, posting averages of 16.2 points per game on 36.0 percent shooting from 3-point range.

The Rockets are going to need Gordon to continue providing a scoring punch. According to The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani, the 30-year-old will see a lot of his minutes alongside Westbrook against second units next season, making him the secondary scorer in those situations. He’s also “very likely” to start alongside Harden and Westbrook in the backcourt, a team source told Bijani, which will require him to be a more consistent 3-point shooter than he was at times last season.

Gordon is well aware of how valuable he is to the Rockets, telling Jenny Dial Creech of The Houston Chronicle that he has a lot to give and that he feels as though he’s going into the prime of his career. If the latter is true, it will go a long way in helping the Rockets overcome their demons in the playoffs.

Mike D’Antoni’s future

Having not come to terms on an extension this offseason, head coach Mike D’Antoni is entering the final season of his existing contract with the Rockets, which begs the question of whether or not 2019-20 will be his last in Houston.

Based on what Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta had to say when he was on ESPN’s First Take this offseason, it appears as though how far D’Antoni can coach Houston this season will determine his future with the franchise.

“Mike D’Antoni is a great coach and he fits our team,” he said. “Let’s not talk situational: I think that we’re going to have a great year, and Mike and I are going to sit down – I think Mike D’Antoni will be the coach this year, next year and probably the year after that. But we need to be successful too. I think we will be and I don’t even think it’ll be an issue.”

Beyond having to find a way to get the most out of the Westbrook and Harden duo, D’Antoni has a new coaching staff to work with after a number of assistant coaches were let go this summer, including Jeff Bzdelik, a well-known defensive guru who came out of retirement last season to re-join the Rockets.

In his three seasons as head coach of the Rockets, the team has compiled a 173-73 regular season record and a 23-16 postseason record. They made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2017-18 and the Western Conference Semifinals in both 2016-17 and 2018-19.