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NBA News and Notes: Zion to Miss Start of NBA Season

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The start of the new NBA season is just around the corner but let’s look at some news from the last week of the NBA Preseason as NBA odds boards at different sportsbooks see adjustments to the win totals for the teams.

Zion Williamson to Miss Start of NBA Season with Knee Injury

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Williamson, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, out of Duke, is expected to miss a “period of weeks” so we will have to wait for his NBA debut. The news obviously worries Pelicans fans because Williamson is expected to help turn the franchise around but he should not play unless he is 100 percent ready.

Williamson showed promise in his preseason debut, scoring 16 points with seven rebounds and three assists while entertaining the crowd with amazing dunks as the Pelicans beat the Hawks 133-109 on October 7 but we also witnessed potential issues in his game. Williamson took 13 shots (missed two 3-pointers) and eight of those were around the restricted area in the lane (he would make just three of them).

Jrue Holiday led the way against the Hawks with 21 points in 18 minutes, Brandon Ingram finished with 19 points and six rebounds, Lonzo Ball had nine points, seven assists and five rebounds and promising rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 12 points, which tells us that this is a team with a deep roster that to me will be just fine in those few weeks without Williamson. New Orleans also signed free agents JJ Redick and Derrick Favors and they can make some noise in the West once Williamson comes back.

Bradley Beal Signs Contract Extension with Wizards

Star guard Bradley Beal agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Washington Wizards worth $72 million. The deal has a player option for the second year, which means that Beal can push his free agency from 2021 to 2022, seemingly keeping him off the trade market while giving the Wizards at least one more year to show him that they’re serious about their intentions to be a competitive team in the near future.

Beal averaged a career-high 25.6 points, 5.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds in 36.9 minutes over 82 games last season and he averages 19.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 34.4 minutes over 488 career games (454 starts) in seven seasons with the Wizards. Beal clearly wants to play for a winner, so now is up to the Wizards to prove him that they can build a competitive roster, unless they want to risk losing him.

Russell Westbrook Exits Preseason Finale Due to Finger Injuries

The Rockets ended their preseason slate with a 144-133 road win against the Heat last Friday but Russell Westbrook had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after re-aggravating finger injuries on his right hand.

Westbrook dislocated two fingers on the right hand in the game against the Spurs but he still played against the Heat. Backup guard Austin Rivers also left the game early. He played only seven minutes before experiencing neck soreness and sitting out.

“Both of them told me they were OK, so we’ll take that,” head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN. Westbrook had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists on 6 of 13 shooting in 26 minutes.

After Paul George demanded a trade to the Clippers, the Thunder worked together with Westbrook to send him to a team of his choice and James Harden wanted to play with him, so he convinced the Rockets to go after the 2017 NBA MVP.

Harden and Westbrook were teammates with the Thunder for three years and their Big Three with Kevin Durant made it to the 2012 NBA Finals where they would eventually lose to the Heat in five games. Adding Westbrook makes the Rockets serious contenders in the Western Conference as long as both players show a willingness to sacrifice.

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Can Miami Heat Sustain Hot Start?

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The Miami Heat continued their impressive start to the 2019/20 NBA season with an overtime victory over the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, proving themselves as surprise contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Erik Spoelstra’s men missed the playoffs last season and were not expected to make a charge this term. However, Jimmy Butler has been an astute signing following his move to the franchise during the off-season, while rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have hit the ground running.

Miami are keeping pace with the leaders in the Eastern Conference that were anticipated to be in contention to reach the NBA Finals. The question now is whether they will be able to maintain their strong start amid tough competition from the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and the Raptors.

Consistency

The Heat will base their surge for the playoffs on the basis of their performances at American Airlines Arena. At the time of writing, Spoelstra’s men are 8-0 on home court, which is easing the pressure on their displays on the road. They were able to play with freedom in their win over the Raptors as confidence has been flowing through the team. As a result, it could be worth considering their odds of 10/1 with Betway to win the Eastern Conference given the value and the fact they’ve also conquered the Bucks this term. It has been a stark contrast to their performances last season.

In the last campaign, the Heat struggled in front of their supporters, with a 19-22 record. The team has found the consistency to their displays, although there has been a pattern to their victories and their defeats. When the Heat has scored over 100 points they’ve have ended on the winning end more often than not – dropping two games to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets.

Their other defeats have come when they’ve been held under 90 points to quality outfits on the road. The Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers have been able to stop their flow, although it’s a good sign for the future that the only blemishes on their record to date have been against the elite of the NBA, proving once again that the Heat are in it for the long haul.

Sustaining Performance Levels

Butler is a proven commodity in the NBA and has lived up to the billing since he arrived in Miami, with Josh Richardson moving in the opposite direction. The 30-year-old is thriving on being the centerpiece under Spoelstra, supporting the younger members of the roster alongside Goran Dragic.

The Heat do not have a lot of experience in their side, making the performances of Butler essential to their success. It’s no surprise to see when he has not performed to a high level the team has tended to struggle. Butler has been exceptional thus far at both ends of the court, but he cannot be expected to carry Miami through the rigors of an 82-game season and the playoffs.

Bam Adebayo is developing into a solid presence on the court in the defensive third. He has been a key factor in getting the ball back for the Heat, averaging 10.4 defensive rebounds per game. It needs to be the standard for the 22-year-old, while Justise Winslow also needs to take his game to the next level after a solid start to the term. The two players have enough experience in the NBA to know their games, easing the pressure on the rookies.

Herro and Nunn have been excellent in their opening burst of games, with the latter catching early attention for the rookie of the year award after being named the Eastern Conference rookie of the month for November. It’s encouraging for the Heat to see such performances from their two rising stars, although it remains to be seen whether they can match those performance levels throughout the season.

Verdict?

The Heat are a team on the rise after years of underachievement. Spoelstra is proving that he can coach without elite talent on his team. However, given the quality of competition in the Eastern Conference, it might be a year too soon for Miami due to them being dependent on the performances of their rookies, who are untested in the heat of intense matches down the stretch.

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Vince Carter’s Remarkable Career Isn’t Over Yet

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As the league has moved towards a focus on speed and floor-spacing, bringing about greater stat lines and more exciting contests, it’s easy to see how players would struggle to play into their 40s, or even get close. The NBA is a young man’s game more now than ever, so it’s very impressive to see some of the elder statesmen still being able to pull their weight and help a team throughout the season.

Many professional basketball players have kept going into their 40s, with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, and Jason Terry clocking in games as 40-year-olds over the last couple of years. However, Vince ‘Vinsanity’ Carter stands out among his peers.

Legend of the Slam Dunk Contest, Carter continues to ply his trade at the highest level of men’s basketball in the USA, edging ever-closer to marking his name as one of the very oldest players to ever play in an NBA game. While we look at which players Carter will be looking to surpass, we’ll also have a look at the players following ‘Vinsanity’ up the ladder.

Nat Hickey Leads the Way

Third on the list, as it stands, is the former center of the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, and Chicago Bulls who became an NBA champion four times: Robert Parish.

The seven-footer has gone down as one of the league’s best-ever big men, with the Celtics going on to retire his ‘00’ jersey. Now a Basketball Hall of Fame honouree, Parish played at the age of 43 years and 254 days.

Coming in at second on the list is another seven-footer with Kevin Willis playing through until he was 44 years and 224 days old, retiring in 2007.

The center/power forward played for eight different teams throughout his storied NBA career, enjoying two spells with the Houston Rockets and the team that drafted him 11th overall in 1984 – the Atlanta Hawks. In what would prove to be one of his final seasons, Willis hoisted the NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.

Heading up the list of the oldest player in NBA history is Nat Hickey, who played professionally from 1921 for Hoboken St. Joseph’s to 1948 with the Providence Steamrollers.

This was, of course, back when there was the Basketball Association of America – which Hickey featured in for two games – and the National Basketball League. The second of Hickey’s two appearances for the Steamrollers, who he was coaching at the time, clocked him in at 45 years and 363 days old.

Vinsanity Set to Make History

Known for his affinity for a three-pointer, Kyle Korver hasn’t been a regular starter in the NBA since moving from the Atlanta Hawks in 2016. However, the 6’7’’ guard continues to play an important role for a vibrant team.

Now with the Milwaukee Bucks, Korver averages close to 16 minutes per game and a .486 three-point percentage despite closing in on being 39-years-old. While Giannis Antetokounmpo will receive the most credit if the Bucks manage to go all the way and win the NBA Championship – of which they can currently be found at odds of +600 to achieve this if you opt to bet online using some of the various American providers which each have their own welcome offers – Korver will certainly be there to contribute.

A good couple-hundred days older than Korver and set to appear in the NBA at some point this season is Pau Gasol. The hefty Spaniard has missed the start of the 2019/20 season recovering from foot surgery, but when he returns to the Portland Blazers, he’ll clock in at over 39 years and 128 days old.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Udonis Haslem has signed back with the Heat for his 17th season <a href=”https://t.co/C1oviR4LTr”>pic.twitter.com/C1oviR4LTr</a></p>&mdash; Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) <a href=”https://twitter.com/BR_NBA/status/1158831162497949701?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>August 6, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

The second oldest player still active in the NBA looked set to retire last season, with basketball outlets reporting that Udonis Haslem was ready to hang up his jersey. Over the summer, however, the Miami-native signed another contract to extend his stay.

Haslem has been with the Miami Heat since the 2003/04 season, previously going undrafted in 2002. Playing for the city of his birth, Haslem has won the NBA Championship thrice and is still on the team, making his first appearance this season on November 12 at the age of 39 years and 156 days.

Then, there is Vince Carter. Having been taken fifth overall in the 1998 NBA Draft, there were always high hopes for Carter, but few expected him to play into his 40s. Earning the nickname ‘Vinsanity’ for his enigmatic dunks and leaping, it’s a wonder how the forward can play after so many years of taxing acrobatics.

The king of the Slam Dunk Contest is, at the time of writing, 42 years and 290 days old. If, or rather, when Carter plays a game at any point after November 24, he’ll move up to fourth on the all-time oldest NBA players list. From there, he’ll need to play into next season if he wants to usurp Robert Parish and reach the top three.

Regardless of if he makes it into Parish’s spot, Vince Carter is already making history at 42-years-old. This is his 22nd season in the league, which is a record. When he plays a game in 2020, he’ll then become the first-ever player to compete in the NBA in four different decades, having embarked on his rookie season in 1998/99.

It seems very unlikely that anyone will ever catch Nat Hickey, but as far as more modern basketball goes, ‘Vinsantiy’ looks primed to set a record that no player will catch in the foreseeable future.

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NBA Teams Set To Improve in 2019-2020

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Virtually every NBA season sees some teams take steps forward while others experience a decline in form. These improving teams can either come in the form of non-playoff teams working their way toward the postseason or actually getting into the playoffs and competing for a championship after being worse in the prior year. When it comes to the 2019-2020 NBA season, there are some teams that are poised to take that leap forward, as their rosters look to be heading in the right direction for a strong season.

Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have struggled mightily in recent years, but appear to have put a solid roster together during the offseason. Combined with an exciting young nucleus, their veteran additions have made them a team considered by many to be a candidate to exceed expectations this season. Given the struggles that the team has had since the mid-2000s when Steve Nash was winning MVP awards with the team, this might be the most exciting period of Suns basketball in over a decade.

Devin Booker has become the leader of the new-look Suns. The young guard out of Kentucky has proven to be a prolific scorer during his short time in the NBA and finally appears to have a roster around him that can keep up with everything that he is capable of on the court. Booker is joined by talented young players like Ty Jerome and Cam Johnson, both of whom played in the ACC during their college years when that conference was the best in college basketball. That has helped mold those players into battle-tested additions to a roster that appears fearless.

Veteran additions have also helped the Suns, with Ricky Rubio leading that charge. Rubio’s role as a pass-first point guard has made it easy for Booker to focus on scoring rather than handling the ball. Rubio’s quiet style of play meshes nicely with a team full of young players developing a personality. And when young big man DeAndre Ayton returns to the team, Rubio should be able to get involved with him in hard-to-defend pick and roll situations.

Los Angeles Clippers

For a while, the Los Angeles Clippers have become the best team in Los Angeles basketball as they overtook the Lakers since the arrival of Chris Paul to the team. Paul has long since moved on, but the Clippers are again candidates to be the best team in Los Angeles thanks to the acquisitions of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard during the offseason. Given their strong start to the 2019-2020 campaign, it is safe to say that the Clippers will be one of the most improved teams in the league this year.

The Clippers won seven of their first 10 games to start this season, with Leonard leading the way for them despite his sitting out of a few games during the season. But the scary thing about the new-look Clippers is the fact that they won 70% of those games despite Paul George not having made his season debut up to that point. George is a strong scorer, but his ability to play perimeter defense will be what makes things difficult on opponents when combined with the superior defensive abilities of Leonard.

Unlike many of the teams that put multiple star players together on the same roster, the Clippers’ identity will be built around their defense. In addition to Leonard and George, and their defensive versatility, Patrick Beverly is one of the most tenacious defenders in the league from the point guard position. With the three of those players on the same roster, opponents will be almost forced to dump the ball inside in hopes of beating the Clippers’ defense that way.

Of course, the Clippers and Suns will have to navigate a very difficult Western Conference this season, with virtually all of the best teams in the NBA playing out West. Whether or not these two improving teams can run that gauntlet remains to be seen, but they appear to be on the right path.

 

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