Been missing NBA basketball? Yes, we all have since the last action was game 6 of the Finals on June 12th. The NBA's regular season return on Christmas Day will try to fill that hunger with games all day long. The standard set of three games, originally scheduled as Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers has been augmented with two additional games: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, according to nba.com.
Full schedule (all times EST)
If you live in Arizona, that's live NBA action starting at 10AM and running until about 11PM. Featured players include Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry. Not a bad way to start things after the lockout, eh?
I encourage you all to spend a lot of time conversing with your family and friends on the holiday. But, you know, the conversation might contain a lot of NBA talk.
Update 12/2/11 2:00PM PST : The Phoenix Suns preseason will consist of two games against the Nuggets, at Denver on December 20th and in Phoenix on December 22nd, according to SBN Arizona.
Update II 12/2/11 3:25PM PST: You may have already noticed, but it's back to business as usual at nba.com. After 155 days of the league's official website not showing images or videos of current NBA players, they're all back today in another step to league operations returning to fully normal. Now, when do we find out how much League Pass will cost this year?
NBA players were allowed to report to team facilities today for the first time since the lockout started on July 1, as long as there was no contact between players and team management. This is another baby step in returning the NBA to normal after the five month lockout, which is still technically in effect as the final details of the new CBA are hammered out. Phoenix Suns Steve Nash, Robin Lopez and Zabian Dowdell were present and accounted for at US Airways Center, and chomping at the bit to finally get this season started.
That Nash would show up on the first day possible is no surprise. In addition to being the Suns most valuable player, he is the unquestioned leader of the team along with Grant Hill and Hill, of course, is an unsigned free agent. Showing leadership, dedication, and enthusiasm, setting an example? That's just Nash being Nash.
"Of course (we can be a playoff team)," Nash said. "I definitely would love to see us improve our roster but I think it's up to us to find that little bit of magic collectively and individually to give ourselves a chance to win enough games to get in the playoffs. I would never say we're not a playoff team. I think that should be the minimum of our goal, and let's see how good we can get."
Robin Lopez' appearance and statements are more noteworthy. Last season, Lopez' third in the league, was a disappointment by any measure as his production plummeted from his pre-injury breakout in 2009-2010. Some of it was due to health, some due to other reasons, but by the end of the season Lopez seemed to have lost the trust of the coaching staff and the support of many fans.
Today, Lopez sounded like a player ready for redemption, as he spoke of his regained explosiveness and renewed passion for the game after the long lockout layoff. Our own Seth Pollack covered today's appearance at US Airways Center and brought us back some tasty quote nuggets.
Jump it for more!
Let's flash back to last summer. So excited were we by Lopez' prospects as he returned from a bulging disc in his back that he was expected to make up much of the departed Amare Stoudemire's lost production. This excitement stemmed from an impressive 2009-2010 season from Lopez, which included 14 double-digit scoring performances in the first two months of 2010, and peaked with a 30 point, 12 rebound performance on February 26th against the Clippers.
The following month, Lopez suffered his bulging disc, returned late in the 2010 playoffs, but never quite looked the same after that. Last season, we saw a hesitant and sluggish Lopez, but for the occasional burst of his previous form. By the end it almost looked as if team and player were ready to part ways.
Today, Lopez expressed optimism that his health problems are largely behind him. "I haven't had any pain while playing. I feel a lot quicker. I feel a lot bouncier," he said. "We'll see how it goes."
He went on to acknowledge his poor performance last year. "I think I just needed to use the break to get in the right mindset for this upcoming season and try to get right physically because at the end of the season -- don't get me wrong, I'm not pinning everything on what I wasn't physically, obviously that wasn't it," he said. "I just wasn't playing well, period."
And, from Seth's piece over at the mother ship:
"For the first time in a while, I'm hoping that I can contribute to a pretty good front line out here," Lopez said. "Obviously, we've got Marcin (Gortat) and I'm hoping I can contribute what I failed to contribute last year."
This is literally exactly what I want to hear from Lopez. He's healthy and he's ready to play improved ball. I wrote last spring that the best hope for the Suns is to keep Lopez and build him back up.
If I was another NBA front office, I'd be looking at Lopez as a potential low-risk reclamation project if the Suns have given up on him and I could get him for cheap. But, aren't the Suns in a position where a low-risk, young, talented reclamation project would be nice for us to have, too? And, hey look! We've got one! Why give him away for peanuts?
Since the lockout ended, our discussion has centered around what pieces the Suns can add to their roster. Unfortunately, prospects to add a difference maker are dim. Among current players, there isn't much upside to be found. Jared Dudley growing into an effective starter? Maybe. Channing Frye or Marcin Gortat adding new wrinkles to their games? Could happen. Markieff Morris and Gani Lawal are completely unknown quantities. The 23-year old Robin Lopez is the one player on the Suns roster who has a reasonable chance to play much, much better than he did last year.
And if he does, the Suns front line becomes that much better. An emerging Gortat with his defense and rebounding, and a rejuvenated Lopez with his scoring touch would be a very nice combo, the envy of many teams. We'll see how it plays out when Lopez takes the court, but he certainly sounds like he's ready for the challenge.
"The 25-year-old Siler said he expects training camp to be different this time around now that he has a year of NBA experience under his belt. During the offseason, he’s worked on improving his perimeter defense and becoming more of a force on the offensive end.
'Before, I didn’t know what to expect," he said. "This time, I do.'
The former Augusta State All-American said the Suns have a weight clause for him, and at 290 pounds he is currently 10 pounds under the limit. To keep weight, the 6-foot-11 Siler has been running and swimming most mornings as well as performing crossfit training."