Interview With Toronto Raptors Guard Terrence Ross

Coming off a career-high 51-point performance on Saturday night, Toronto Raptors guard spoke with me before Monday night’s important game between the Raptors and Nets.

Tell me what was going through your mind when you had that game on Saturday

I didn’t notice how much I was scoring, I just was trying to just keep my team in it. Trying to help, and one of the ways I was helping was by scoring. I didn’t notice it until one of my teammates came up to me with, maybe, 45 seconds left said you have 48 points, try to get to 50. I just tried to get the last two points.

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Was there anything you were doing differently that day, even before the game?

No, just doing the same things I always did.

What do you think happened?

I think it’s just one of those things where you get in that groove and you kinda just catch fire and try to roll with it.

What was the most points you’ve scored in a game?

Thirty.

What about college, high school?

Thirty in college, 30 in high school.

Have you heard from other people that have given you that, sort of, instant celebrity? Have you felt that at all?

Not really. I haven’t been checking on my Twitter feed or anything. There were a couple of guys from around the league, or guys I knew from high school that hit me up and said congrats, and I said thank you. But nothing other than that.

Going forward, how do you think you can get better as a player, just looking forward after the game that you had?

It’s more of a mental thing. Just continue to try to be consistent, help the team out any time I can. So it’s more just mental, trying to be consistent.

Have you been working on your efficiency from the floor. You’re shooting 40.7 percent from 3 but just 41.8 percent overall. Is that something you’re trying to get better at?

Yeah. It just takes time, so I just gotta work on it everyday. So it’s something you just gotta get better at naturally.

A lot of teams are telling players to either step behind the 3-point line or drive towards the basket and try to avoid those 16-to-24-foot shots. Is that something you’re trying to accomplish?

Not really. Any time I have a three and I’m open, I’m gonna shoot it. So that’s what I do. I wouldn’t say so.

How is the team progressing and jelling? You guys are in first place and [head coach] Dwayne [Casey] said back there that said that he didn’t think this would happen right away but you’re going to embrace the winning.

Yeah. It’s something that’s happened sooner than we thought it would, but at the same time you just have to keep working and make sure because we have a target on our back now and teams are gonna try to come at it. We just have to make sure we play consistent every night and play our best.

Who do you think has been helping you out the most on the team?

The coaches and some of the older vets like DeMar [DeRozan] and Amir [Johnson]. Amir’s been here for so long, so he’s been helping me out.

How do you like the city of Toronto?

I love it. It’s nice. Besides the cold weather, it’s one of the best cities in the NBA.

What’s your favorite thing to do there?

Just relax. It’s cold out there right now so there isn’t much to do, but I just like to relax on my down time.

What are your goals for the rest of the season?

Just get to the playoffs.

Interview With Philadelphia 76ers Center Spencer Hawes

In a rebuilding year for Philadelphia under first-year head coach Brett Brown, Hawes has been one of the beneficiaries. Though his 46.8 percent shooting overall leaves much to be desired from the center position, Hawes is averaging nearly 14 points and nine rebounds per game to go with 3.5 assists per contest and a robust 41 percent mark on 3-point attempts. Hawes actually leads the team in attempts per game and percentage from beyond the arc among Sixers players who have logged more than a dozen games. I talked to Hawes on Wednesday in New York.

How has your season so far been progressing for the Sixers, new coach, new situation?

Obviously losing is what it is, there’s no fun in that. But having coach Brett, since he’s came in and what he’s tried to establish for the organization going forward, I think he’s done a great job and his attitude on a daily basis, he makes it a little more palatable going through what we’re going through.

Could you summarize in a sentence what Brown is trying to establish?

The thing that he said from the beginning is trust the process and the results will follow. And I think obviously his pedigree speaks for itself. We know what kind of system he was bred in, how he was raised. And knowing that, I think guys have a faith in him and have bought in to what he’s selling. The results may not be here right now but there has been progress. It takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.

How do you think that process is progressing personally for you?

I think really how he’s come in and encouraged us to space the floor more, share the ball, play a different kind of brand of basketball a lot of the time with some stuff on offense and pushing the ball. I know our pace has been at the top of the league from the get-go. So I think that’s allowed us to play into our strengths.

What’s it like playing at that pace?

It gets a little tiring, but you definitely see the rewards. Our points in the paint, trying to get rid of the long two’s, mid-range stuff. Just become as efficient as possible, individually and as a unit.

Has it been a struggle for you to avoid those long two’s and try to get in the paint more?

It was at first. Coming in and doing drills when we first got back there in August and September and you pop a 15-footer and he’d start yelling at you, “no, back up! Put it down and get to the rim or behind that stripe.”

[Editor's note: Notice how few mid-range shots Hawes has taken this season]

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That’s kind of how things are going now.

Yeah. That’s just the way the game’s going. And you know, it’s like everything else. It’s always evolving, and you either jump on it early or let it pass you by.

And you see yourself evolving?

Yeah. I mean I think it’s just another weapon that can create value for yourself.

What do you think surprised you the most this season halfway through?

I didn’t think the East was going to be this bad (laughs). That’s probably the big thing that jumps out.

What are your personal goals for the rest of the season?

Just continue to progress. Continue to grow as a player for myself, keep helping out these young guys come into their own and it sounds funny to say it but we have an opportunity before this break to get on a run. A lot of other teams have their minds in different places headed towards the All-Star break and chip some ground away.

Interview With Phoenix Suns Center Miles Plumlee

The most pleasant surprise in the NBA this season has been the Phoenix Suns, and the most pleasant surprise on the team thus far has been big man Miles Plumlee. Relegated in the past to the point of the center worrying if he was going to be out of the league, Plumlee has starred in a starting role and the Suns, destined to tank and slump all season, is very much in the mix for a playoff spot in the uber-competitive Western Conference. I spoke with Plumlee on Monday before Phoenix’s overtime loss to the Knicks.

You guys obviously have been a huge surprise. Going into the season, what did you expect from this team?

We just wanted to get better every day and compete. That was our most realistic expectation because it was such a new group of guys. We knew we had good chemistry off the bat, but people didn’t have these types of expectations for us so it’s kind of fun to go out and prove people wrong.

Did your role with this team and your production exceed your expectations?

I mean, I couldn’t have known what kinds of moves they were going to make before the season, so I had no idea. I knew I’d have more of an opportunity here, but I didn’t realize that at the beginning of the season I’d be starting. So it’s kind of hard to envision how much productivity I’d have, but with the minutes I’m getting I feel comfortable. I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary and I’m just playing within myself so I feel good where things are at right now.

And how satisfying is it now that you’re actually getting the time that you know you could thrive in this league?

Oh it’s the best feeling, because you get drafted and everyone’s scrapping to stay in this league. You see guys that you’re drafted with that are already out [of the league]. That’s the worst nightmare. You don’t want to be one of those guys that kinda came in and floated out quickly. You want to make a career out of it. So it feels good to come in and play this year.

Did you ever let that kind of negative thought process seep in?

I mean, definitely. It brought me down a little bit last year, especially when you’re not playing and it’s just disappointing and difficult. But you gotta keep working and everybody gets a chance eventually.

What did you see in Jeff Hornacek and the new staff here that precipitated this kind of change with the team?

Everybody’s committed to winning here. Really friendly staff, Hornacek’s just really easy to relate to and he’s a player himself. But I like how competitive everybody is in the organization. We want to win, so it’s a great place to get better. I’m learning a lot from the coaches and just compete.

What are the nicknames that you’ve gotten that you actually like?

Not a lot of them (laughs). Yeah. I don’t know. Hopefully none of them are really sticking. I don’t know.

How much have you gotten to speak with Mason, who’s obviously doing well here [with the Brooklyn Nets] with the time he’s getting?

Pretty often. A lot of the time we talk, it’s not even about basketball. It’s just checking in, seeing how things are going. We catch each other up in how we’re playing, especially big games. I know he’s doing well and I’m really proud of him. I know he’s going to make the most of what he’s got.

Are you guys comfortable with the pace you play at? I know obviously with Eric [Bledsoe] out, do you guys talk about that changing a little bit? Or do you guys just want to keep running?

No, we definitely want to keep running. That’s our identity, but I definitely think we’re kind of figuring things out a little bit more now because it’s different not having both guards [along with Goran Dragic] being in. Eric’s one of the most explosive point guards in the league, so it’s just making adjustments and guys running where they could pick up the slack without Eric.

What are your goals for the season?

At the beginning of the season, I just wanted to play a lot and do what I’m doing right now. But now I just want to continue to get better and I definitely have my eyes on the Rookie/Sophomore [Rising Stars] Game. I think that’s attainable, and I’d really be excited to be a part of that, so that’s probably a big personal goal. But that comes from playing within the team, winning games and doing the best I can.

It’s always good when expectations change for the better

Yeah. That’s for sure.

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Interview With Golden State Warriors Shooting Guard Klay Thompson

One of the league’s most prolific 3-point shooters, an evolving defender and a versatile player because of his size, Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson seems to be just scratching the surface of what type of player he can be at the pro level. He spoke with me on Wednesday night before the W’s game in Brooklyn against the Nets.

You guys have gotten really hot after starting the season 13-12. What do you think the difference has been between now and then?

Obviously we’re healthy, and I think we’re playing more as a team. As a result, our assists have gone up.

And the defense has really improved between this year and last year. What do you think has been the difference there?

Well obviously we added Andre Iguodala, who’s a great perimeter defender. He’s fully healthy now so he’s a force to be reckoned with around the rim. I would say just another year of experience, too.

How much work do you put in personally to your shot and your game?

A lot. I mean, I put in a lot of work as a kid, in high school and college. So now I shoot every day except when we’re off so a lot of work.

Do you ever lack confidence in your shot? Is that something you feel as a player?

Not at this point in my career. You’re gonna have your bad games, but it’s all about how you respond the next time you have the ball. As a shooter you have to be a continuous player and let it fly when you get open and you feel you’re in rhythm.

Do you ever wake up and think sometimes how lucky you are to have a teammate that can shoot as well, if not better than, you?

It feels great. I love playing with Steph. Like you said, he’s better than me at shooting so it’s a great way to get me better and makes everyone around us better.

Where have you seen the most improvement in your game?

My overall efficiency. My ability to defend.

And how do you think Mark [Jackson] has improved as a coach year to year?

He’s been great. Like we thought of him as a player, that’s how he is as a coach. That experience. Dude exudes confidence everywhere he goes. He’s just a great motivator.

Do you think he’s gotten better x’s and o’s also?

Yeah. No question.

You guys just beat Miami last week. If there was just one thing you could focus on about beating the Heat, what do you think that would be?

Try to make them beat you with perimeter shots, because they’re one of the best teams at attacking the rim.

What do you like most about being in the Bay Area?

Being close to home and the weather.

Interview With Atlanta Hawks Guard Shelvin Mack

Shelvin Mack has worked his way from the D-League, to the Wizards, to a prominent role with the Atlanta Hawks. He’s backing up Jeff Teague at point guard and taking care of the ball, giving first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer some really strong offense off the bench. Mack has gotten notice as on of those players coming out of nowhere. I was able to talk to Mack on Monday in Brooklyn.

You’re off to a good start this year in Atlanta, what do you attribute to being comfortable here and having a strong role on a winning team?

I think the biggest thing is that my teammates have confidence in me and the energy to go out and play. When your teammates have confidence in you besides me having confidence in myself it’s good, but also I understand the system. Just getting familiar with watching Tony Parker over there [in San Antonio] but also getting an understanding of my role and my responsibilities.

What do you think about Mike Budenholzer, a rookie coach. coming in here. How has he adapted and how have you adapted to what he’s wanted, to bring that San Antonio style?

He’s been great. It’s easy to listen to someone who’s done it before. This past summer he was in the championship game, game seven, that all of us want to be in. He was in it. So it’s easy to listen to someone like that. Also he’s been winning for a while, so he understands what it takes. We all believe in him. I trust him. We’ve had success so far, so its all been good.

Does he have any Gregg Popovich in him?

I don’t really know too much about him, but kinda funny. We had a game-winner against Cleveland and then we also saw the Spurs run the same play a few nights later and [Marco] Belinelli hit the shot with the same play. So it’s kind of interesting.

Do you see the same plays being run by different teams?

Yeah, a little bit. That one sticks out just because he’s from San Antonio. And it was the same situation, down three. Needed a three. He drew up a big play and we executed it.

What’s surprised you the most so far this season overall?

A lot of injuries this year. Especially to a lot of point guards. [Russell] Westbrook’s been hurt, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, [Rajon] Rondo. So that’s been very surprising.

Has that made you change the way you do anything?

Yeah, a little bit. Can’t take anything for granted. You know you can get hurt any night. But also the biggest thing is taking care of your body. Your body is your temple, and without your body you’re not gonna get out there and play. So you have to make sure you’re doing the right things, getting the proper sleep, stretching, massages, all of that stuff.

What do you think about Jeff Teague’s play so far?

Jeff’s been great. I feel like he should be an All-Star. He’s really been doing well. We’re the third best team in the East and he’s been playing tremendously.

SprungOnSports’ NBA Power Poll 1/3/14

SprungOnSports’ Top 10
1) Portland- While other West contenders lost at home, the Blazers hit 21 threes in a home rout of Charlotte on Thursday.

2) Indiana- A loss at surging Toronto won’t help, but other top teams lost recently as well. The Pacers still have seven wins in their last 10.

3) Miami- Its loss to Golden State doesn’t look so bad after San Antonio and Oklahoma City’s defeats.

4) San Antonio- Gregg Popovich called his Spurs “soft” after a loss to the Knicks on Thursday. Love that accountability Pop requires.

5) Oklahoma City- The Thunder have lost two straight after a Joe Johnson buzzer jumper won it for Brooklyn on Thursday.

6) Golden State- The Warriors’ 7th straight win was over Miami, where they hit 22 3-pointers. Mark Jackson continues to improve as a head coach.

7) L.A. Clippers- Los Angeles is under .500 on the road, which means that a top-four seed in the West is probably a must for Doc Rivers’ squad.

8) Houston- The Rockets have lost two straight and have split their last 10. The Knicks are up on Friday.

9) Dallas- Three straight wins are at risk when they host the Clippers on Friday.

10) Toronto- The Raptors have been great since they traded Rudy Gay and at .500, Toronto could run away with the Atlantic Division.

Games Of The Week

Friday- L.A. Clippers @ Dallas- Two top-10 clubs in a litmus test for both teams.

Saturday- L.A. Clippers @ San Antonio- Another team on a treacherous Texas trips, the Clips have two tough tasks in a back-to-back.

Sunday- Toronto @ Miami- We’ll really see how hot the Raptors are this weekend.

Monday- Atlanta @ Brooklyn- Can the Nets continue their good start to the new year against a talented Hawks team?

Tuesday- San Antonio @ Memphis- The Grizzlies need to turn things around after a disappointing start, can they begin against the Spurs?

Wednesday- Phoenix @ Minnesota- Two of the West’s dark horses go at it, with December’s conference coach of the month Jeff Hornacek leading the Suns.

Thursday- Miami @ New York- Will the Knicks be embarrassed again on national TV?

Interview With Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Reggie Jackson

James Harden and Kevin Martin are gone. Russell Westbrook just came off a fairly serious injury. So Oklahoma City turned to Reggie Jackson, the 23-year-old dynamo who’s enjoying his best season as the Thunder continue to roll along in this regular season. I caught up with him for a quick chat after the team’s Christmas day win over the Knicks.

Obviously a big win for you guys. How have you stayed so efficient from the field, shooting at around 47 percent for the season [46.8 percent after Wednesday's games], which is really good for a guard?

The bigs do a great job screening, and just attacking and running downhill. And get some easy looks, get some easy baskets early and you go into the fourth quarter and you have the chance to miss a few tough ones later. But for the most part, just hard work during the summer and, like I said, my bigs are doing a great job getting me open shots and just getting me some nice catch-and-shoots or nice catch-and-attacks for layups.

And how has just playing and practicing with Russell Westbrook impacted your game?

I haven’t gotten to practice [with him] as much this season, but the last two seasons, practicing against Russ you know you get to go against one of the elite point guards in the league and you figure out where to attack, how to attack and I get to watch him also. So I have to expand my game and figure things out quickly in the league.

 

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