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Lopez sticks to the Bucks plan, and it s more fun for everyone

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com MILWAUKEE — Come for the three-point melodrama, stay for the rim protection, the put-backs, the block-outs and the blocked shots. Come for the anguish and frustration that plays out across Brook Lopez’s face over the course of a typical NBA game, stay for the maniacal, jubilant, fourth-quarter clapping that gets turned into a GIF and goes viral within minutes. Brook Lopez clapping violently dot gif pic.twitter.com/a22arVkUSc — CJ Fogler (@cjzero) May 16, 2019 Come for the unbuttoned Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball jersey, stay for the Disney fashion T-shirt showing beneath it and the Pizza Planet cap up top. “I’ve always tried to have fun when I go out and play basketball,” said Lopez. The Milwaukee Bucks’ center embodied his team’s performance as they clawed back Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, beating the Toronto Raptors, 108-100, Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at Fiserv Forum. [Watch the Playoffs on NBA League Pass for 30% less with this limited time offer! Select Annual package and use code SAVE30 at checkout to redeem] “I obviously love playing the game,” said Lopez, dressed like a 7-foot 10-year-old for his podium appearance. “But no question I’ve been having a great time here.” Lopez, 31, scored 29 points, a personal playoff best, and grabbed 11 rebounds. It was his first 20-point night of the Bucks’ 10 playoff games so far, only the fourth of his career (he has appeared in just 23 postseason games in 11 seasons). And it came on the heels of a Game 5 effort against Boston a week ago in which Lopez was held scoreless. Milwaukee clinched anyway. This one was an ordeal for Lopez and for the Bucks, an opener in the best-of-seven series in which they slogged through three quarters without much touch or rhythm. The style of play they’ve embraced over 82 games and the past month of postseason was betraying them; Milwaukee kept hoisting and missing three-pointers, as single-mindedly in spite of horrid results as if they all wore beards and played for Houston. The resulting nastiness: A 6-for-34 (17.6 percent) showing from the arc, while digging an 83-76 hole that maxed out at 13 points. Lopez was a notable offender. He missed his first three from deep and only broke through midway through the second quarter. His shot from out front that got the Bucks within 42-37 was followed by a reaction of one part frustration, one part exasperation and a couple parts relief. That’s the wide open space of Lopez’s game, out there on the wing or in the corner launching for all the world to see. Home fans seem to live and die on each attempt, riding an emotional rollercoaster while – on nights such as this one – they wait for his results to regress to the mean. That finally happened in the fourth quarter. Lopez – who shot a total of 31 three-pointers in his first eight seasons, 300-plus in each of the next two and ultimately 512 in 2018-19 with the Bucks – hit two to get his team going in the quarter. His third in the period, one possession after Lopez finished a slo-mo fast-break for a 101-100 lead, sent Toronto into a timeout, down four with 1:55 left. That was when Lopez came with the clapping. And when play resumed, there was Lopez again, getting a hand on Kawhi Leonard’s attempt to attack the rim, stripping and corralling the ball for a block and rebound. As good as Kyle Lowry was over the final 12 minutes, as potent as the Raptors’ offense was at certain points earlier, they were done scoring for the night. Lopez did the small stuff all night, even finishing off the dribble a couple times. It’s just that, by virtue of how he and the Bucks have played this season, those things get overshadowed by the broad strokes that didn’t go his way until late. “This is the Brook we all know and we all love,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo. Said Khris Middleton: “He’s a beast. Inside the paint, made some big plays for us. On the defensive end, he covers up so much for our mistakes.” The Bucks’ adherence to what works has been tested for quarters, for halves, but so far only for one whole game in these playoffs – they dropped the opener against Boston. Milwaukee won the next four in a row to oust the Celtics. In the dressing room afterward, there was chatter that they’d snatched one away, that they couldn't have played worse – at least on offense. In that fourth quarter, outscoring Toronto 32-17, Milwaukee made up for a multitude of sins. The Bucks hit 50 percent of their shots, missed only 1-of-10 free throws and dominated the boards (14-4) to finish with a 60-45 edge. The Raptors were held to 5-of-22 shooting in the quarter. And Lopez, dragging a minus-5 plus/minus rating through three quarters, was sitting on a plus-7 by the horn. The key? Absolutely faith in the style they’ve honed since late September, and a commitment to letting it fly. Whether we’re talking about a conscienceless approach to three-pointers or Lopez’s irrepressible good nature. He has made as many as eight three-pointers in a game this season (at Denver, Nov. 12, PHL time) and attempted as many as 15 (vs. Brooklyn, Dec. 30, PHL time). There is no such thing as too many. “That’s what my teammates have been telling me,” Lopez said. “George Hill specifically and then [Giannis], too. They just stick in my mind: ‘Keep shooting the ball, you just need one to go down. Keep letting it fly.” Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

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Zion Williamson brings rare potential to New Orleans

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Eventually, as with every NBA Draft, there will be a “re-draft” of the Class of 2019. That’s the irresistible exercise in hindsight from media outlets that rank a particular year’s prospects not on their projected value but on actual demonstrated value five, 10 or more seasons into their professional careers. Some players will rise. Others will fall. “Bust” and “sleeper” tags will be dispersed accordingly. This team or GM will be lauded for an especially savvy selection, that one will be razzed for the quality player or players on whom it whiffed. But the through line of the dreams-come-true event Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) at Barclays Center, the lone selection that will not or at least should not change, is Zion Williamson. Williamson is the sure thing, the “can’t miss,” consensus No. 1 pick bound for the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s a 6'7", 285-pound freshman from Duke whose comps aren’t merely established players currently in the NBA but some of the game’s legends. So think Blake Griffin, sure. But also think LeBron James. And Charles Barkley. And, for that matter, every other wide-body who’s ever played with muscles on muscles, above-the-rim explosiveness, balletic body control and an instantly recognizable game that’s as charismatic as it is freakish. Yeah, awfully small subset. “I’m looking forward to playing against everybody,” Williamson said soon after his selection. “I want to be the best. I feel I have to earn everybody’s respect.” It’s not just a matter of Williamson’s game tickling NBA fans’ fancy, either. He managed, in almost his first official pro moment, to capture a lot of their hearts too. No sooner had Williamson – the first No. 1 pick to be born in this millennium (July 6, 2000) – strode to the stage in his cream-white suit, tugged on a Pelicans draft cap and embraced NBA commissioner Adam Silver, he dropped his guard to let the world share his emotions in the moment. His status as college basketball’s best and his draft position had been established months ago. There was no new mystery as to when his name would be called by Silver at the podium. And yet, when the first ESPN microphone was poked in front of him, with his mother Sharonda Sampson at his side, the big guy lost it. He choked up and blinked back tears, not quite winning that battle. “My mom sacrificed a lot for me,” Williamson said. “I wouldn’t be here without my mom. She did everything for me. I just want to thank her.” Several interviews and maybe 20 minutes later, Williamson explained how the horribly kept secret of his No. 1 selection could trigger his response. “Because I love the game of basketball,” he said. “You can hear people say things like, ‘Oh, it was likely I was going to go No. 1.’ But I guess you don’t know until you actually go through it.” What mattered most to Williamson about his mother’s role in his life? “Tough love,” he said. “She was always be the first one to keep it real with me. … She put aside her dreams just so me and my brothers could have a chance at ours.” The love already heading Williamson’s way in New Orleans was less tough and more unconditional at this stage, for the teenager represents a re-birth for a Pelicans franchise rocked by the loss of All-Star forward Anthony Davis. Davis, coincidentally, was the No. 1 pick in 2012 and generally considered the top prospect to hit the Draft before Williamson. But after six-and-a-half seasons and only two trips to the playoffs, Davis asked in December to be traded, despite having more than two-plus seasons left on his contract. David Griffin, the Pelicans' new vice president of basketball operations, had hoped that Williamson’s arrival might convince Davis to stay. When that didn’t happen, Griffin swiftly shifted to Plan B, arranging to trade the discontented big man to the Los Angeles Lakers in a deal that won’t be official until July. Now New Orleans, which has won just two playoff series in its 17 seasons and failed to qualify 10 times, has a new cornerstone. Williamson figures to be under team control contractually for as long or longer than Davis stuck around, with teammates relocated from L.A. such as Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to run with him and Pelicans holdovers. “What excites me the most is the fact that they’re young and they’re close to my age,” said Duke’s third No. 1 overall pick (Elton Brand in 1999, Kyrie Irving in 2011). “So they can help me a lot more, like how to deal with this transition. I think we can build something over there.” The essential block is Williamson, who swept college basketball’s major awards with a game that strains credulity. At 285 pounds, his listed weight is greater than almost every big man in the NBA, but he has quick-twitch speed and thrives in the open court. He can stare down into the rim before slamming home dunks with unnerving ferocity, and he is a deft and willing passer. Williamson averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 30 minutes for the Blue Devils, while making 68 percent of his shots. He and fellow Top 10 picks R.J. Barrett (New York, No. 3) and Cam Reddish (Atlanta, No. 10) helped Duke reach the Elite Eight, with Williamson earning ACC Tournament MVP along the way. He’s not a perfect player – his jump shot and range need work – but he already is working to complement his transition and low-post repertoire. Defensively, Williamson has the motor and mobility to switch assignments and quick hands to dislodge the ball without fouling. As a rebounder, his verticality is matched by, well, his horizontality in controlling the air space above and around him. “His size, his athleticism, his power is visible,” former St. John’s coach and Naismith Hall of Famer Chris Mullin said. “But to me his speed is really incredible from end to end. “I would morph Charles Barkley and Shawn Kemp and put them together [as a comparison]. When he gets to the NBA and he plays with that extra space they have in the wide key, he’s going to be a monster.” Williamson arrives with hype – no, make that expectations, because of all he’s shown already on courts around America – that rival what James shouldered when he arrived from high school in 2003. His plan for lugging that responsibility: “Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m willing to do it, because I feel people remember winners.” The selections immediately after Williamson were nearly as predictable, based on intelligence and mock drafts that solidified in the days before the Draft. Murry State guard Ja Morant was chosen by Memphis at No. 2, and Barrett’s ensuing selection by the Knicks delighted their always boisterous fans in the stands at Barclay. The order of the next four choices was jumbled from some predictions. Yet by the time the smoke cleared, sure enough, the seven players projected to come off the board soonest had slotted into the night’s top seven spots. That included Virginia forward De’andre Hunter to Atlanta at No. 4 (via the Lakers, in the aforementioned Davis trade that has yet to be completed), Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland to Cleveland at No. 5, Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver to Minnesota at No. 6 and North Carolina guard Coby White to Chicago at No. 7. Just because there wasn’t a lot of suspense at Barclays didn’t mean there was no intrigue. Much of that came from unusually heavy trade action – all technically unofficial – that had teams moving up, down and all around to snag picks, dump picks or clean up their salary-cap positions in anticipation of free agency that starts June 30. The timing of the Draft, relative to when the NBA’s new business year begins, had players donning caps of teams they’ll never play for, while speaking guardedly about those for whom they really were picked. A reported nine trades impacted draft decisions made in the first round alone. There even was a moment when Morant, in his post-Draft media session, gave a shout-out to veteran Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, whose spot he’ll presumably be taking once Conley’s trade to Utah officially goes through. But there’s no such uncertainty about Williamson, the through line of this year’s class, the true line in his heartfelt reactions Thursday (Friday, PHL time) and broad-shouldered hope of a Big Easy franchise in need. Williamson showed his grasp of the NBA’s and sports’ need for fresh icons, in effect accepting his status as a legend in waiting. “You know, times change,” he said. “That’s why there are so many debates about who people think the greatest players of all time are. If you were in the time of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, you’d probably say one of those two. If you were in the time of Jordan, you’d say Jordan. In our generation, a lot of them say LeBron. “So times changes and I think younger fans like younger players.” You don’t have to be young, though, to have your eye on Zion. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 21st, 2019