Monthly Archives: December 2011

6 NBA Rookies to Watch in 2011-12

Leonard is one of a few promising rookies this year

Usually, this list consists of ten rookies to keep an eye on during the season. With the shortened season, however, this list is also smaller. Call it laziness on my part, call it whatever you want. It is what it is. Last year’s draft was something out of the Bizzaro universe. It was more notable for the peculiar name pronunciations than anything else. The popular rookies will get press elsewhere so there is no need to cover them in depth on this little blog. Plus, do you really need to read another article about the parallels between Jimmer Fredette and Tim Tebow? No, I didn’t think so.

The way in which the rookies were chosen to appear on this list is completely arbitrary and is a result of hope, sometimes terribly misguided, that these players will transform into household names in the future. Certainly, though, at least one is on here because of the sheer absurdity surrounding his journey to the NBA. (Can you guess which one?)

Norris ColePG, Miami Heat

Upon being drafted, Cole quickly discovered how he, as a player, is merely a commodity to teams. He was a member of three different teams on draft night, eventually landing with the Miami Heat. In college, Cole was the focal point of his team’s offense as he took 28.9 percent of his team’s field goal attempts. In Miami that will not be the case (understatement of the year, perhaps). What will set Cole apart will he his ability to pass the ball to the prominent scorers on the Heat as well as conform to the defensive system that Erik Spoelstra employs. His passing is already above average; however, he does have trouble passing out of a double team. Again, though, it will be unlikely that he sees many doubles while on the floor. It would not be surprising if Cole was inserted into the starting lineup at some point during the season so that Spoelstra can bring Mario Chalmers off the bench as an offensive kick for his second unit. Cole must continue to learn and play at a high level for that to happen.

Kawhi LeonardSF, San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are a damned crafty bunch when it comes to drafting players. For them to have traded a promising young talent in George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the draft rights to Leonard caused heads to turn. He would have been a great addition to an already scrappy Pacers squad, but they were overloaded at his position. Leonard made his mark in college as a premier (or monster) wing defender, forcing a turnover on 23.8 percent of the possessions in which he was the isolated defender as well as holding opponents to 37.5 percent shooting when he was defending them. His seven feet two inch arm span certainly helped him in these respects. Not only is he a stout defender but he is also a good defensive rebounder. Essentially, Leonard is the ideal Spurs player. Where he needs improvement, which Greg Popovich will administer in his own special way, is with his offense, both his shot and offensive sets. The Spurs are notorious for successfully developing players, much to the ire of rival fans, so Leonard should be in good hands. Also, with San Antonio shopping Richard Jefferson over the summer it looks as though Leonard could quickly move up the depth chart.

Ricky RubioPG, Minnesota Timberwolves

Oh, Ricky, Ricky, Ricky. What a zany (channeling Mitt Romney for that one) path Rubio has taken to the NBA. He was drafted what seems like a decade ago only to hold out until the final year of his rookie contract before agreeing to leave his beloved Spain to play in the cold wintery confines of Minnesota. This was either incredibly shrewd or insanely selfish. Rubio is not a typical rookie. He has played at a high level in Spain and internationally with the Spanish national team which is made up of mostly NBA players. One of the major criticisms of Rubio has been his scoring ability, however, he, like other Spanish point guards (read: Jose Calderon) is a pass first, offense facilitator. In Rick Adelman’s up-tempo style of play, especially with a team full of mediocre talent, Kevin Love aside, but that is incredibly athletic, Rubio should learn to thrive in the open court. He must first distinguish himself as deserving the playing time over the 1,000 other point guards that David Kahn has signed, though. That task should not prove to be a problem.

Iman ShumpertPG/SG, New York Knicks

Shumpert was the buzz of New York after two preseason games. The hype was palpable. Shumpert was drafted for his defensive prowess but his offensive skills soon were apparent once the preseason began. Due to the Knicks’ lack of backcourt depth, he was slated to be a staple in the rotation. However, he suffered an injury in the first game of the season and will be out for several weeks. When he returns to the lineup, Shumpert needs to improve his shot selection, like most rookies, and his ability to finish at the rim. Against the Celtics he only made one of six shots at the rim. Boston maintains a physical defense, especially around the paint, but no NBA team is going to give up easy points around the rim if they can help it. With his usage percentage projected to remain high upon his return, Shumpert must finish the opportunities he is given.

Tristan ThompsonPF, Cleveland Cavaliers

Thompson was drafted pretty high, fourth overall, for a player that possesses little ability to operate away from the rim. He does, however, possess the ability to work off the ball offensively away from the rim in space but this is to free him up on a dive or cut to the basket. He will need to improve his ball-in-hand offense, specifically in the post, in order to adapt his game to the NBA level. Another area of concern for Thompson is his poor defensive rebounding ability. This, for one, is striking due to Thompson’s size, even as a young man, and good post defense. Yet, he cleans the offensive glass rather well which should benefit a team destined to miss a lot of shots. Despite his immediate drawbacks, Thompson has plenty of raw potential and other than Kyrie Irving, represents the only potential the Cavaliers have.

Kemba WalkerPG, Charlotte Bobcats

Michael Jordan has a special place in history when it comes to the draft lottery. That place is specifically referred to as Kwame Brown. MJ, let us hope you done right this time. Walker comes into the league with a solid NCAA pedigree. He was a member, and respective leader, of the national champion UConn Huskies. Not too shabby, right? Walker works well as a primary scoring threat for a team in pick-and-roll and off the ball screens. What will be interesting to watch for this season is if his ball hogging tendencies, he shot the ball 63.8 percent of the time coming off of a ball screen while at UConn, will carry over to the NBA. It is apparent that Walker will split and share time with D.J. Augustin in Charlotte, where is off the ball offensive movement will be on display. However with the ball in his hand, how will he react? One game is not a benchmark for anything, but Walker totaled just three assists, each leading to a shot from 16-23 feet, in 21 minutes in his first NBA game. He is a score first point guard.

Tip of the hat to NBA Playbook for many of the statistics used above.

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NBA Christmas Wrap

Merry Christmas

With much fanfare and an obnoxious LMFAO ad that was played almost every commercial intermission, the NBA season kicked off in superb, albeit rusty, fashion. Yes, lockout legs could be seen throughout the five games that were aired but that is to be expected with abbreviated training camps. chemistry was also an issue as many teams have a number of new players to integrate into their rotations. Nonetheless, the NBA is back and fans and players are happy. A reaction:

Boston Celtics 104 – New York Knicks 106

Carmelo Anthony looked great in this game. His 17 points in the fourth quarter were the difference and why the Knicks thought it necessary to gut their team to acquire him. Throughout his time in the NBA, Anthony has proven he has a knack for performing in the clutch and he showed it on Sunday. However, the already shaky depth of the Knicks has grown even more unstable with a knee injury to rookie Iman Shumpert which will sideline him for at least a couple of weeks.

As for the Celtics, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass, who is finally free from the tyranny of Stan Van Gundy, were the offense with Paul Pierce missing the game. Rondo continually broke down New York’s defense and got to the rim. When Pierce comes back to the lineup the Celtics should be a more rounded offensive unit, until then this will be Rondo’s team.

Naughty: Kevin Garnett choking Bill Walker.

Nice: Carmelo Anthony’s clutch play.

Miami Heat 105 – Dallas Mavericks 94

The Mavericks raised their championship banner but that is all they had to celebrate on Sunday. Dallas came out looking flat and out of sync, in essence, they looked old. That should be no surprise because their entire core is over the age of 30. Rick Carlisle is integrating Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, Delonte West, who played well, and Brandan Wright into the rotation while dealing with key losses across the board. Jason Terry was the only Maverick who showed up to this one.

Miami looked like they were just rolled off of a German assembly line. They were well oiled and fine tuned. What they did to the Mavericks was scary. Say what you will about all the exhibition games this summer but they seem to have kept LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in game shape, that and their complete desire to destroy everything in their path. This was a blowout, like a brand new Mercedes-Benz S-Class versus a Trabant. Not only were the Heat good but they will get better. Rookie Norris Cole turned some heads with his play in 24 minutes of action. If he continues to improve he could supplant Mario Chalmers as the starting point guard.

Naughty: The Mavs’ 37.8 percent field goal shooting.

Nice: LeBron James‘ box score: 37 points, 10 rebounds, six assists.

Chicago Bulls 88 – Los Angeles Lakers 87

Forget Showtime, these are the Slowtime Lakers. That is not a knock on them, however, not in the least bit. This Lakers squad proved to be as scrappy and gritty as any I have seen. Perhaps this is what Mike Brown brings to the team, perhaps this is what a bunch of blue-collar white guys bring to a team, or perhaps this is just what happens when you lose Odom and Andrew Bynum serving his suspension. Nonetheless, I like the Slowtime Lakers. Where they do need to improve is offensive player rotation. Too many times they reverted to Hawks-esque isolation with three players around the perimeter and one near the post.

Chicago played well throughout, with the exception being the third quarter. With the game close, Luol Deng stepped up and made the big plays. It was his defense against Kobe Bryant and his steal late in the game that allowed the Bulls to go on a 7-0 run, capped by Derrick Rose‘s floater in the lane, to win the game. Rip Hamilton started for the Bulls but did not contribute much due to foul trouble therefore his time was split with Ronnie Brewer. Brewer is a solid defender with good court vision and should see more minutes this season.

Naughty: Kobe’s last shot attempt.

Nice: Rose’s floater to win the game.

Orlando Magic 89 – Oklahoma City Thunder 97

Much like the Heat Mavericks game, the final score does not do justice to the thrashing that actually occurred. Like Miami, the Thunder look ready for the season. Very ready.  Oklahoma City pounced on Orlando early and never relented. Their team is largely the same as it was last year so their learning curve is near zero when it comes to knowing each other and how to execute plays…when they are not freewheeling. Speed and athleticism are the monikers of this team and they will serve them well out of the gate. If only they could improve their shot selections *cough* Westbrook *cough*.

Where the Thunder took plenty of questionable shots when they had built their sizable lead, the Magic took even more haphazard shots throughout the entire game. I have said it many times: the Magic’s offense is terrible. There is nothing more that can be said. It looked like they thought that there was a pit of lava inside the three-point line. Get Dwight Howard the ball in the post and let him work.

Naughty: Hedo Turkoglu clearly indulged his gluttonous side during the lockout. Dude is chunky.

Nice: Kevin Durant. Need I say more?

Los Angeles Clippers 105 – Golden State Warriors 86

If ESPN had their way, this would have been a documentary about Mark Jackson and the greatness of his coaching style. Nevermind the fact Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were on the court, this broadcast was about Mark Jackson, hands down (man down). They showed a clip of him quoting Shakespeare before the game. He was the only coach shown in the huddle, mostly saying cliché motivational shit like “execution” and “focus.” That is all fine and good, but he does have a decent team that the broadcast could have talked about. I think Jackson will be a good coach but that much attention is unwarranted, especially on a nationally televised game. His first coaching milestone was the hack-a-Jordan technique he used on DeAndre Jordan.

The final score is not indicative of how the Warriors remained close for much of the game. Clearly, the Wizards of Lob are the better team but last night they showed chinks in their armor. The aforementioned hack-a-Jordan technique stymied the Clippers offense and brought it to a halt. Luckily, the Clippers have Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Griffin. All played well as they were able to outlast the Warrior. The new look Clippers are a work in progress to say the least and last night they showed it.

Naughty: ESPN’s love affair with Mark “Momma, there goes that man” Jackson.

Nice: Caron Butler‘s circus shot.

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For LeBron James, Christmas will bring the critics

There was one upside to the recent NBA lockout and it had nothing to do with basketball related income, griping owners, David Stern, Billy Hunter, the union dissolving, or money. Instead, the lockout provided everyone a distraction. If the lockout had not occurred the summer and fall would have been dominated by talk about LeBron James.

Make no mistake, this is James’ league. Yes, there are other great players but none is as scrutinized and as vilified as he. The lockout granted us and him a brief, albeit tedious and blunderous, reprieve. James’ miscues on and off the court have been well documented. His method of leaving Cleveland and his fourth quarter performances with Miami are headline news. He has no private life, and at times it seems that he wants the attention.

Since James was in high school at St. Vincent/St. Mary’s, he has been anointed as the next great player, the next Kobe, the next Jordan. However, that his not who he is. He is a different player with a different build and athletic capabilities. That does not matter, though. The comparisons will continue to pile on.

He has carved out a swath for himself in the NBA. James is not a niche player. With the attention his game, and sometimes his antics, garner, critics will continue to make a living reveling in his misfortune. They are not friendly pandas who James can have a pleasant photo-op with.

The lockout shifted the spotlight away from James. It gave everyone the room to breathe and take a step back. As the Miami Heat began training  camp this year, the throngs of reporters had subsided from a year ago. Perhaps the Heat and James are old news. They did not make any big acquisitions. They just lost a few players. Nothing special there. Of course, to think that James will not garner headlines this season would be beyond naïve.

With games resuming on Christmas day, James has just a few more hours of personal time to enjoy. The present under his tree will be watching the team that beat him in the Finals raise the championship banner. It will be at that moment that the critics will reawaken after their lockout slumber. James will again be the center of attention. It is not right and it is not wrong, it is just how it is.

Merry Christmas, LeBron. It is going to be a very long, shortened season. Next year ask Santa for a little more reprieve and a few more pandas. James  does not even like to play on Christmas, a day in which his critics hope to feast. He has two children he wants to spend time with. That is good for something, at least.

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New additions, same Knicks

Even with Chandler, D'Antoni has his work cut out for him

The New York Knicks enter the protracted season with high hopes and deep playoff aspirations. Why should they not? This is a team that has, since the trade deadline in February, been one of the largest movers on the market. They have brought in star talent to contend now. However, with all the moves that they have made, are the Knicks ready to compete with the likes of the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, or the Boston Celtics? It appears that everything is riding on this season no matter the fact that it is shortened and they have a heap of new players to work into the rotation. The clock is already ticking and the start of the season is less than 24 hours away.

Though they did not make the biggest splash in the hectic free agency period, that honor goes to the Los Angeles Clippers for wresting Chris Paul away from the New Orleans Hornets, the Knicks did land the most coveted center on the market. Tyson Chandler, coming off his career defining championship season with the Dallas Mavericks, chose New York over a host of suitors. New York was a likely fit for Chandler because they could offer him the money he thought that he deserved; roughly $56 million over four years.

During his time in Dallas, Chandler proved to be the backbone of a stout and flexible defense that was quite adept at employing complex zone schemes which allowed Chandler to operate autonomously in and around the paint. As defensively porous as the Knicks were a season ago, a defensive rating of 110.1 which was good for eighth worst in the league, it is no wonder why they spent the money to acquire Chandler. They need defense, and badly.

Yet, one player cannot change the defensive structure of an entire team, it takes each individual on the court to put forth a concerted effort. Carmelo Anthony knows this and believes that the Knicks “can be a great defensive team.” As with anything, words are easier to come by than action.

Last season the Knicks’ best defenders, in terms of defensive rating, were Amar’e Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf. Each checked in with a rating of 108. Cult hero Anthony Randolph had a lower rating than either Stoudemire and Turiaf but his time on the court was so negligible it renders the rating moot. Determining defensive ratings for players relies heavily on the defensive rating of the team so it is understandable why all the players would own bad ratings.

Mike D’Antoni, the head coach since 2008, is known for an offense first game plan. Defense is an after though, if it is even thought of at all. Chandler is not an offensive powerhouse and can take seven seconds or more to run the length of the court if he is caught under the defensive rim when the Knicks transition to offense. How will he integrate into D’Antoni’s uptempo system? It will be D’Antoni who will have to adjust to Chandler’s presence.

With the lackluster defensive talent on the Knicks’ roster it would behoove D’Antoni to implement similar zone schemes to the ones Chandler anchored in Dallas. From there an individual mandate and trust can be passed to each player when the team plays man-to-man. Trust will be one of the most important issues for the Knicks to cultivate this season if they are truly committed to improving defensively.

On the opposite end of the floor, D’Antoni’s team packs an offensive punch, with two players at least. Combined, Anthony and Stoudemire were used in 60 percent of the offensive sets. The next five players in terms of offensive usage are no longer on the team. In terms of scoring, the four players immediately behind Anthony and Stoudemire are also gone. Toney Douglas is the next player on the list, in both categories, that is still on the team.

Of course there is Chandler, but as stated above he is not going to be a go-to guy on offense. Instead, the Knicks will have to rely heavily on some new and returning players. This includes the aforementioned Douglas, who will quarterback the team, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert (oh, how he is hyped already), Bill Walker, Mike Bibby, Jared Jeffries, Steve Novak, and Baron Davis. Davis, however, will not take the court for some time as he is dealing with a bulging disk in his back. Not only that but he has lost a step going into his thirteenth season.

This is a team with serious depth issues. This is none more apparent than at point guard. D’Antoni’s system relies on strong play from his point guard (see: Steve Nash) and his options going into the season are far from promising. Douglas is far from Nash and had a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio last season. Now that Raymond Felton is in Portland, Douglas’ ratio could become worse.  Since coming to New York, D’Antoni’s teams have committed the most turnovers. Until Davis is healthy, Bibby will be the backup point guard. Anyone who watched his play with the Miami Heat last season knows that his time on the court is met with groans rather than cheers. The turnovers will continue to be plentiful.

New faces are nothing new for the Knicks, they have also had the most player turnover of any team over the last four years. Therefore, the current Knicks situation is no different that it has been during D’Antoni’s tenure. Nothing in New York should ever be all that easy. Unfortunately for D’Antoni, this is the last year of his contract. If he cannot but all the new pieces together he could be in a long unemployment line.

To expect much of this team in a shortened season would be foolish. Despite their formidable frontcourt, there are too many places where they need to improve, especially defensively, and be able to integrate new players. Not only that but their lack of depth will really hurt them with the increased number of back-to-back games and the inclusion of back-to-back-to-backs. Finishing sixth in the East, as they did last season, would seem to be about right for the new-look Knicks of this season. The Anthony trade gutted this team of a young core and the effects of that will be seen this season. Knicks fans can take solace, though, now that Eddy Curry is no longer on the team. That is a win in and of itself.

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The Face and Fate of the Clippers

Captain on deck

Chris Paul is now a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were, when the hubbub surrounding Paul’s insistence to be moved, the most unlikely of bedfellows because, well, they are the Clippers. Since moving to Los Angeles, some old sages may tell you that the team was once in San Diego, Donald Sterling’s bastard child has only made the playoffs four times and only once have they advanced beyond the first round. However, now they have Paul. He is a master on the court, finding teammates and creating for himself when the opportunity arises to carry his team. Teamed with Blake Griffin, a player who excites by carving out his domain above and literally through the rim, the Clippers, at least for now, are exciting again. Dare say, they are once again relevant.

What will come of the two years that Paul has signed on in Clipperland? Surely, the team’s fanbase will expand beyond Billy Crystal and Frankie Muniz. Bill Simmons gave up on the NBA during the lockout so he will no longer be a mainstay at their home games in the Staples Center. The spotlight will be on the Clippers to perform, fair-weather fans demand it.

Aside from Paul, the team added Caron Butler, the able swingman, who spent much of last season with the champion Dallas Mavericks on the bench due to injury. They matched Golden State’s offer sheet for DeAndre Jordan, who they are likely overpaying but he does have an upside. Plus, he is good friends with Griffin so that chemistry should translate to the potency of the frontcourt. Then there is Chauncey Billups. The Clippers picked him up off waivers after the New York Knicks used their amnesty clause to release him.

To get Paul, one of the best players in the league, they were forced to trade away assets that they were counting on for their future like Eric Gordon (if a team owned by Sterling ever has a future). No matter what side of the trade one may fall on, what is done, is done. Now the Clippers have two years to make it work and the Hornets have forever to rebuild.

The Clippers were Blake’s team. He was the only player that mattered to casual observers. With Paul in town, whose team is it now? Will there be an identity crisis or can the two coexist much like the players that have joined together in New York and Miami. Those relationships, however, are far from equally divided. Not one of these players needs to be the face of the franchise. Both can fill that role for the fans. Yet, on the floor one must take the lead. The likely choice is for it to be Paul as he facilitates the offense. Griffin is the highlight reel who will be on the receiving end of Paul’s decisions. In the fastbreak, which should happen frequently this season, this will be more than apparent. What Vinny Del Negro does in the halfcourt will determine the fate of the Clippers, and likely his job. 

Del Negro will likely give Paul free rein in halfcourt sets, allowing him to masterfully probe the defense, zipping through and around screens and picks, all the while Griffin lurks in  the post, or the charity stripe waiting to strike as his defender focuses on Paul for a moment too long. If Paul penetrates and the defense collapses, he has scorers in Butler and Billups to pass to. If he shoots in the lane and misses, Griffin and Jordan will be there to clean it up. In this scenario, the offense is Paul and because of this the Clippers’ offense will be dramatically improved.

As Rob Mahoney points out, the addition of Paul should be extremely beneficial to Jordan. Much of his scoring comes by means of assists or put backs because he does not have the ability to create scoring opportunities for himself. The Clippers signed Jordan to a new contract worth $43 million over four years. It is a hefty price for a player who has yet to come into his own but Paul should help that. 

Paul’s facilitation will make all of his teammates better by default. This returns to the question: Who is the face of the Clippers? It has to be Paul. He is already a well entrenched figure in households across the country. The argument can be made that Griffin, too, has attained such status. However, his meteoric leap (pun intended) to fame was more about the sheer thrill of his athleticism rather than his tactical vision. Griffin did not make the players around him better. Yes, he has a knack for being able to distribute the ball, a talent many big men do not have, but what makes him special is the ferocity in which he plays the game. Paul is calculating, he has the ability to create angles on the floor with his passes and movements that defenses have no method of anticipating. That is what makes him a great player and what makes players around him better and his leadership will be vital to the development of the entire team, not just the players.  

For the two years that Paul is under contract with the Clippers, he will be the face of a once faceless organization. Griffin will take his place beside Paul due to his ascendancy last season but this is Paul’s team. It will not be a time-share.

It is a rare occurrence that the Clippers have so much buzz going into the season. They will be a better team. Perhaps better than they have ever been. However, that is looking too far ahead. With Paul on board the team is set to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Yet, something feels off. Paul is great. Griffin is astounding. It is the notion that the two are the heralded saviors of a perpetually inept organization with a questionable owner. The Clippers are on the precipice of something good, something wonderful. Only they can screw it up. Let us hope, for the sake of all invested in this team for the coming season, Sterling aside, history does not record yet another blunder for Los Angeles’ second team.  

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Popeye Jones and Tony Dumas Hosting ‘Players On Film’

Insightful movie review by two former Dallas Mavericks.

 

 

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The Pacers still have work to do

Not only is this Indiana squad better than last year’s pesky 8th seed team, this year’s Pacers squad looks to be the best one since The Malice at the Palace.  And they have to make more moves before Christmas.

I really hope the Pacers can make this rivalry two-sided.

No, this team has nowhere near the talent of the Pacers of yore, but they have potential and youth.  Oh, and a little money to spend.  This free agency, they managed to shed themselves of $10.5 MM worth of Mike Dunleavy, $8.5 MM in T.J. Ford, and might waive James Posey‘s last $7 MM of his contract.  As of now, the Pacers have less than $47 million on the books for next year, and have a roster full of young, smart, tough, cheap players for next year.

This summer, the Indy front office traded their draft pick, the athletic forward Kawhi Leonard, for San Antonio fan favorite George Hill.  Hill’s a good player, always eager to learn, and a positive locker room presence.  But looking over this roster, the Pacers are full of players like him; Paul George, Danny Granger, and Brandon Rush are all hardworking guys with great attitudes.

Now with the signing of David West, this team finally has their other superstar to pair with Granger, and frankly, I’m as excited to watch this team grow as I am the Chris Paul-led Clippers.  Assuming they re-sign Jeff Foster, this team will be a very athletic team, while still imposing on defense.

Now if they could only get Roy Hibbert to come around. (Yes, those are all individual links to videos.)

This Pacers team's not going to take much guff this year.

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