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April 21, 2014

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NBA Day 7: Hey Rook! Get me some chicken fingers!

Hey Rook! Get me some chicken fingers! - Bucks 79, Nuggets 65

If you're J.R. Smith, why not go watch your potential Denver Nuggets teammates play in the summer league as long as you're already in Vegas? Comfy seat and a built-in catering service.

Smith, a 6-foot-6 prep-to-pro shooting guard entering his fifth year in the league, introduced Nuggets rookie Sonny Weems to the traditions of rookie hazing in order to make his spectating experience Thursday more comfortable at Thomas & Mack.

After settling into a seat five rows off the floor on the baseline (following a boot from the usher when he tried to sit courtside), Smith yelled down to Weems, who was seated three rows in front of him with the rest of the Nuggets hopefuls. Weems was already in full uniform, watching the tail end of a Phoenix blowout over San Antonio.

Weems, a second-round pick of the Chicago Bulls last month out of Arkansas who was then sent to Denver later in the night, sauntered up the steps, took a wad of cash and some loosely pointed out directions from Smith.

Smith directed him straight up to the concourse on the other end of the arena.

What was he to retrieve? Two baskets of chicken fingers and fries.

Talk about a nice substitute for bottle service, huh?

"If he doesn't do it, we're gonna take it harder on him during the season," said Smith, who recalled his fair share of luggage and dinner tab duties as a New Orleans Hornets rookie in 2004-05.

So Weems got the grub, but instead of retracing his steps back to Smith, he went around the gym through the concourse and found a back way to his veteran teammate, avoiding the embarrassment of toting fried delights courtside minutes before a game.

"Yeah, (he was probably avoiding it), but I'll let him live, because he's still doing what I'm asking him to do," Smith said.

Weems could have even snuck a bite or two if he wanted, as the rookie logged just 16 minutes in a 79-67 loss to Milwaukee moments later, finishing with four points and a pair of boards.

But the coaching staff was constantly dropping him pointers, even while he was toting a towel on the bench. In the summer league, when a staff is paying that much attention to one player, it's a pretty good sign he'll have a shot at the roster come October. At 6-foot-6 with an solid slashing skills and a lofty vertical, he seems a natural fit for Denver's up-and-down, helter skelter style.

He may have already given the Denver staff all that they needed to see, scoring 17 points in 20 minutes in a 99-85 win over Philly on Saturday.

"The biggest adjustment for me will be when I get to training camp - I'm just really starting to see the NBA," said Weems, who averaged 13.4 points per game in two seasons as a Razorback. "(They're) coaching me for the future. I'll be playing with guys like (Allen Iverson) and (Carmelo Anthony), playing defense, getting up and down the floor, being ready to attack, just getting me ready for the season."

Added Smith: "He's great, because he likes to run, he's an up-and-down type of guy and he can shoot, and that's what we need."

Even though most of his night was spent on the bench, Weems did have a bit of silver lining to hold onto.

"I let him keep the change," joked Smith. "Like eight dollars or something."

This and that ... Dahntay Jones, who averaged 24.4 points per game last season for Fort Wayne in the NBDL, led all scorers with 20 ... Nevada-Reno product Ramon Sessions - ye of the 24-assist game late last season against Chicago - came brutally close to a triple-double. He finished with 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds to continue his impressive showing for the week ... Milwaukee first-round pick Joe Alexander hasn't necessarily blown anyone off the map with his offensive numbers this week, but his hops are hard to ignore. The unassuming rookie tallied 10 points, seven rebounds and three emphatic blocked shots ... Speaking of Alexander, he had some familiar faces on-hand at courtside. Ryan Smith and Ben McMurry, who graduated a year ahead of Alexander at Linganore High in Frederick, Md., made the trip to Vegas for the week to support their high school pal. McMurry, who works as a video editor, is currently putting together a cumulative Joe Alexander highlight video for the rookie swingman's family ... On the bench for Milwaukee was newly-hired assistant Kelvin Sampson, who as you probably know fell from grace in a flash this season at Indiana. Oddly enough, on the Bucks' summer roster is one of his former Hoosier players, Rod Wilmont, who finished with 13 points. It should be pointed out that Sampson at no point during the game appeared to have a cell phone in his hand ...

The Lopez relocation plan - Suns 98, Spurs 74

Deborah Ledford has it all planned out. It's really quite simple. One older brother goes with one younger brother.

Boom. Done.

It's been a hectic couple of months for the recently retired high school teacher and her twin tower sons.

Brook Lopez (10th overall pick, New Jersey) and identical twin (except for the hair) Robin (15th, Phoenix) are each set to move to their new homes, and each will be joined by a familiar face. Heading down to the desert with Robin is oldest offspring Alexander, 32, and his family. Shipping up to the Garden State alongside Brook is 27-year-old Christopher. Mom plans to hold down the fort back in Fresno, where her father lives.

Though don't think she won't be doing plenty of jet-setting now that her days of preaching math and german curriculums - which she did for an impressive 33 years - are done.

"I'm going to get a lot of frequent flyer miles," she said.

OK, that's settled. Now there's the matter of the twins earning those enormous NBA paydays.

First up this summer is Robin, who for the second straight outing looked solid in a Suns practice uniform. His 14 points, nine rebounds and signature active style helped Phoenix create some scoreboard separation before the half and made everything after the break pretty much moot. The Suns coasted to a 98-74 win over the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night in Thomas & Mack.

Sitting courtside with Christopher was Brook, who kicks off his own summer schedule this weekend at the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City (the third of three NBA summer leagues). Brook heads to a team in Jersey which made no bones about its need for a post presence this summer. Phoenix, on the other hand, adds Robin to a healthy corps of big men, largely consisting of Amare Stoudemire and aging-yet-still-moderately-effective-when-not-injured behemoth Shaquille O'Neal.

Brook sees Robin's upcoming practice tussles with the two established stars going much different in some ways than the ones he's been used to with his twin over the years.

"I don't think Shaq and Amare are going to be allowed to get in fist fights and stuff like that," said Brook, in a California-bred tone reminiscent of Jeff Spicoli. "The skill, he'll learn a lot of tricks from those NBA vets."

This and that ... Phoenix's 2007 first-round pick, Alando Tucker, led all scorers with 24 points and looked pretty casual in doing so. He sat most of the second half with ice packs attached to his right shoulder and right wrist, but said afterwards they were just minor woes after landing hard ... James Gist apparently made an impression Tuesday with a solid showing for San Antonio off the bench, as he was plugged into the starting lineup Thursday and responded with 13 points in 20 minutes ... San Antonio's last two first-round picks - George Hill and Ian Mahinmi - both sat out. The pair may have been saved for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Revue, which the Spurs also participate in ... D.J. Strawberry was arguably the game's most impressive performer. The second-year point guard project out of Maryland scored 12 points, had four rebounds, three assists and two steals. He also ran the floor more comfortably than anyone else in the game ...

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