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November 22, 2014

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D-League underdogs turning heads at NBA Summer League

NBA Development League Select coach Scott Roth addresses his players during a timeout Friday night against Phoenix at the Thomas & Mack Center. The D-Leaguers won their first two NBA Summer League games but lost to the Suns, 95-89.

NBA Development League Select coach Scott Roth addresses his players during a timeout Friday night against Phoenix at the Thomas & Mack Center. The D-Leaguers won their first two NBA Summer League games but lost to the Suns, 95-89.

They don’t have their last names on the back of their jerseys, and that’s Dwayne Archibald – not Jerry West – on the logo on the front of the jersey.

However, the D-League Select squad has become one of the more compelling topics here at the NBA Summer League on UNLV’s campus.

“We’re like a rag-tag group of guys,” said forward Coleman Collins. “We know we’re kind of looked at like we don’t have NBA (logos) on our jerseys, but we’re out there having fun.”

The NBA Development League has been around, in some form, for eight seasons, and Archibald was in the NBA's front office when he agreed to model for the D-League logo. This is the first time players from the NBA’s minor league have competed in Las Vegas.

Without two players who combined for 73 points in their first two games, victories over Minnesota and Sacramento, the D-Leaguers still gave Phoenix a run Friday night.

They cut their deficit in half, to 87-85, with 92 seconds remaining, before the Suns used a finishing kick to secure a 95-89 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The D-Leaguers, though, didn’t feel like they were beaten.

Even with a short-handed roster of eight players, they believed they hurt themselves dearly by turning it over 24 times, which Phoenix converted into 30 points.

D-League coach Scott Roth said it’s difficult for any team to win that way.

“But it’s valuable to show the NBA people that there are quality players here,” Roth said, “that they deserve to play in the Summer League and they’re capable of winning games.”

Twenty-one NBA teams sent summer teams to Las Vegas, yet the D-League was the first squad to hit triple figures in scoring.

By the time the D-Leaguers beat Sacramento, 105-89, Wednesday night, NBA summer teams had 53 chances to hit triple digits. They were 0-for-53.

When the D-Leaguers passed it around seven or eight times on their first possession against Phoenix on Friday, a fan wondered, “Is this the Globetrotters or what?”

“I don’t know what to say about that,” said Marcus Hubbard, a 6-foot-9 center out of Angelo State. “I’m an unselfish player. I believe in working the clock and getting the best shot possible.”

Collins, who majored in communications for his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech and is writing an occasional ESPN.com blog, called the D-Leaguers’ style exciting.

“We’re getting out and moving the ball,” he said. “I think we’re playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Friday night, they tried to do it without a full roster.

“We let one slip away today,” said former Massachusetts forward Gary Forbes. “The good thing is we have another one (today).”

In the usual four 10-minute summer quarters, the D-Leaguers play Denver tonight and Portland on Sunday, both at 7 and in the Cox Pavilion.

With 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting, in 37 1/2 minutes, Forbes tried compensating for the loss of two of his team’s top three scorers. No matter who did or didn’t play, he said, they had a point to prove.

“Everybody’s on the same page and nobody’s thinking of themselves,” Forbes said. “We have to come out here and play as a team to be recognized. We’re obviously doing that.”

Othyus Jeffers, who had 20 double-doubles this past season for Iowa and was named the D-League rookie of the year, missed Friday night’s game with a strained left hip flexor.

He was averaging a Select team-best 20.5 points this summer.

Trey Johnson, who was called up from D-League Bakersfield to play in four games for Cleveland last season, was averaging 16 points, but a right heel contusion sidelined him against the Suns.

“They’re playing unselfish and doing a great job,” Roth said of his undermanned unit. “I’m excited for them, and I’m just trying to get out of their way and let them play.”

The D-Leaguers were getting burned inside by Suns center Robin Lopez. When Lopez left with his ninth foul the Select team made a move, using a 12-3 run to take a 60-57 advantage.

But the D-Leaguers had empty tanks for the final three minutes.

Players get 10 summer fouls. When Lopez was whistled for the 10th time with 35.1 seconds left, his mother, Deborah Ledford, said, “A new double-double!”

Lopez finished with 10 points and the 10 personals. That’s entertainment.

Jiri Hubalek led the Suns with 20 points, and Micah Downs added 19. Collins finished with 19 for Select, and Curtis Stinson hit six of his seven shots for 13 points off the bench.

One of Hubbard’s two majors at Division-II Angelo State, in San Angelo, Texas, was psychology, so he was asked for an accurate assessment of what makes the D-League Select team tick.

“Well, the psychology of this team is real simple,” he said. “We know we’re the underdogs and we try to come out and prove the crowd wrong, not only the scouts and coaches, but the crowd.

“Being a D-League team, we give them what they don’t think we can do.”

Touche.

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