A tale of two contenders


The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers are the crown jewels of the league. Both lead their respective conferences, both will have homecourt advantage through their conference Finals, both are elite.

And Wednesday they provide a fascinating cross-examination of one another.

The Lakers mailed one in in Atlanta, getting wiped off the map by the Hawks 109-92. It was not pretty. The Lakers have very little to blame. It wasn’t a matchup problem. It wasn’t a back to back. It was the tail end of a road trip, but still. To be down by double digits nearly the entire second half is pretty incredible for a team many consider to still be the best in the league. The answer? Even the Hawks announcers knew, the Lakers had no interest in being on the floor tonight.

It’s nothing new for the Lakers, who have lost three of their last five, two by double digits in routs. This team has simply played lazy for the majority of the season, turning it on for select quarters in most games, and yet there they are, top of the standings, top of the world. For all this team’s talent and ability, their effort indicates that they simply do not care about the regular season. I could spout off to you something about how true champions give their all in every game, every contest, but that’s a lie.

This is the NBA, and 82 game death march, and only the strongest survive, sure, but part of being strong is knowing when to drag your feet to conserve strength. The Lakers just happen to be dragging their feet, occasionally coming to a complete stop and getting trod over. Even the most confident Laker fan has to wonder how much is simple boredom and how much is actual problems with the team, most notably their play inside. They’ve earned the faith of the acolytes, but they’d better deliver at the altar.

Meanwhile, the Cavs let the Bucks who, no lie, they could very well end up seeing in the second round, hang around for 48 minutes, needing a LeBron James steal on the last possession off a horrible Luke Ridnour pass to ice it. This despite a 45-9 free throw advantage for the Cavs, at home. What’s more, if you watched the game, the Cavs were plugged into this one. While the Lakers were FedExing theirs in, the Cavs were locked in, putting forth the same effort that’s gotten them where they’re at. Yet the result was still in doubt, even with everything that was in their favor.

Last year the Cavs blistered the regular season, torching their way into the Conference Finals, laughing and dancing all the way. And all they got for it was a lousy t-shirt that said “Dwight Howard WUZ HERE.” And a win’s better than a loss. But so much of a team’s success depends on the ability to “turn it on” and get hot at the right time. Peak too early and you’re Cleveland last year. Peak too late and you’re the Pistons nearly every year in the 2000’s.

We’ve got two contenders who are still the favorites. Two titans who are still the Lords of their conferences. But to pretend that the Lakers loss is meaningless is as shortsighted as putting too much stock in it and equally foolish. And to assert that all is well with Cleveland because they got the W is to forget their history, and to ignore that the Lakers got blown out, but they also didn’t give anything, either.

Howard, Millsap, Hardaway lead Hawks past Wizards 114-99

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots against Andrew Nicholson #44 of the Washington Wizards at Philips Arena on October 27, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn’t unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway’s performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes.

Markieff Morris led Washington with 22 points, but it was a tough night for the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo. John Wall finished with only 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting, while Bradley Beal was held to 13.

Hardaway, on the other hand, scored 12 points in the final period, breaking open a game that was close through the first three quarters.


Wizards: Marcin Gortat had 11 rebounds but didn’t have much help. Washington was outrebounded 52-40. … Otto Porter was the only other Washington player in double figures with 10 points. … The Wizards locked arms during the national anthem.

Hawks: Howard posted the most rebounds for anyone in their Atlanta debut, breaking the mark of 18 that Shareef Abdur-Rahim set at Houston on Oct. 30, 2001. … Dennis Schroder, taking over as the starting point guard after the trade of Jeff Teague, had 14 points but only two assists.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

Report: Kevin Garnett in talks with Cavaliers, other teams about coaching consultant role

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If you’re wondering what Kevin Garnett is going to do now that he’s retired, turns out sitting on the couch with a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and watching Judge Judy is not the answer.

He seems headed to the TNT studio show, and may be consulting with some teams — including the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. So reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

There are a lot of teams that could use KG as a consultant, I would expect the Timberwolves are part of that mix as well. He’s going to have the respect and ear of players for teams trying to get a message across to a young squad.

Garnett isn’t doing this for the money, he can pick-and-choose where he feels comfortable and needed.

Watch Dwyane Wade hit dagger three to lift Bulls past Celtics


What spacing problems?

Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Rajon Rondo combined to shoot 9-of-14 from three in the Bulls season opener at home Thursday night. As a team, the Bulls shot 44 percent from three.

That included Dwyane Wade’s dagger three with a hand in his face to seal the 105-99 win.

The Bulls are not going to shoot like this every night, but they looked good on Thursday.



76ers players may respond in wake of national anthem flap

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers held a team meeting Thursday and may take action in the wake of the organization’s decision to cancel the national anthem performance by a singer wearing a “We Matter” jersey.

Sevyn Streeter said she was told by the team she could not perform the anthem before Wednesday night’s season opener because of the slogan.

The Sixers players met at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, and are considering whether to respond to Streeter’s cancellation.

“Everybody expressed their emotions about it,” forward Robert Covington said. “We want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things.”

The Sixers play at home Saturday afternoon against Atlanta.

Streeter said in an interview with The Associated Press late Wednesday she was told she would not sing just minutes before her performance.

“I’d say two minutes before we were about to walk out … the organization told me that I could not wear my shirt while singing the national anthem at their game,” the R&B singer said by phone. “I was never given any kind of dress code. I was never asked beforehand to show my wardrobe.”

The Sixers declined to say why Streeter’s performance was canceled.

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community,” the Sixers said in a statement.

The Sixers had a member of their dance team sing the anthem.

Sixers management declined comment on Thursday.

Coach Brett Brown said there are several options on the table.

“We understand the situation and we respect the social issue involved,” Brown said Thursday. “We completely get it. As a group, we will try to find a way to deal with this.”

Streeter has written songs for Chris Brown, Ariana Grande and other stars. In 2013, she had a Top 40 hit with “It Won’t Stop,” a duet with Brown that reached RIAA gold status.

The singer, born Amber Denise Streeter, said she was hurt by the NBA team’s actions.

“I was angry, extremely, extremely angry and disappointed and honestly brought to tears by all of it. It broke my heart,” she said. “Honestly, I was very excited about being able to perform the national anthem. I was really looking forward to that.”

This isn’t the first time the Sixers were brought into a national anthem controversy. A woman performing the national anthem before the team played a preseason game in Miami did so while kneeling at midcourt.

Denasia Lawrence opened her jacket just before she started to sing, revealing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt, then dropped to her left knee and performed the song. She said it was her way of protesting racial oppression.

The anthem issue has been a major topic in sports in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand while it is played. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports – and many levels, from youth all the way to professional – have followed his lead in various ways.

“I also felt it was important to express the ongoing challenges and ongoing injustice we face as a black community within the United States of America – that’s very important to me,” Streeter said. “Yes, we live in the greatest country in the world but there are issues that we cannot ignore. This can’t be ignored.”