Game of the Night: Where CP3 was better than the Big Three

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Most Saturdays you’re not going to get a Game of the Night, because that could make us work on a Friday night rather than enjoy another Guinness. But there were so many notes on my plate from the Hornets beating the Heat that it cried out for the space. On that note, I put down my pint and give you these:

• We’re five games into a long season, we know the Heat team that starts the playoffs will be different than the one we see today. There will be more familiarity and continuity. Still, this game showed why myself and others think they can be beat in the playoffs by a handful of teams — the Hornets beat them with great play at the point guard and center spots. Chris Paul 13 points and 19 assists. Emeka Okafor 26 points on 12-of-13 shooting. What happens in a seven game series when that is Rajon Rondo and Boston’s front line? The Heat will be good, but there are questions for them to answer yet.

• The book is out on Chris Bosh — push him around, be physical. New Jersey did it the other day, it was one of the few things they did right in that ugly loss. New Orleans did it with great success Friday. Chris Bosh had one rebound in this game. One.

• The Heat’s big three have talked about this being a team, that everyone has to come through for them to succeed. I get that, you need that mentality. Still, with the game on the line is the Eddie House the guy that should be taking the three to tie. Bosh hit one four seconds earlier, Wade and LeBron can hit them. But House takes it. I know he hit some big ones for Boston, but he was 0-6 from deep in this game up to those final seconds. There are times to be selfish, guys.

• Chris Paul is good. I could watch him and Dwyane Wade to back and forth every night and be happy.

• Only 89 possessions in this one, good slow pace for the Hornets that limited Miami’s transition baskets. When the Heat run they are unstoppable, but they are just not running enough. They are averaging 91.7 possessions a game, 23rd in the league. The Heat should be in the top 10, fueled by turnovers, but they right now are playing it too slow.

• In their final possessions, the Hornets ran a well-executed play that got Trevor Ariza a good look at a three. Ariza is maybe option three in the middle of the game, but needs to be option two with the game on the line — if he proved anything with his playoff run in LA is that he can hit big shots.

• This season has seen Okafor blossom, he just showed it on a big stage Friday. He is a perfect example of why to use advanced stats to help see the bigger picture — look at the traditional stats coming into this game and you’d say he was down, scoring one point less and grabbing one-and-a-half rebounds less per game than last year. But he was doing it more efficiently than he has done his entire career, and that is the key. His usage rate (percentage of possessions used) has dropped to 13, but he is shooting a higher percentage and getting to the free throw line more. He’s playing smart. His defense is better. He is a big reason the Hornets are 5-0.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.

Sixers to keep Joel Embiid’s minutes in teens to start season, he’s not happy

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Joel Embiid wants to get on the court, he wants to unleash himself on the NBA this season. After three seasons of being bottled up — even in the 31 games he has played there was a minutes restriction — Embiid wants to impose his will on the league.

He’s going to have to do that in less than 20 minutes a night, at least to start the season.

Sixers coach Brett Brown says to start the season there will be a tight minutes limit on Embiid, who averaged less than 15 minutes in two preseason games after finally being cleared to play. Embiid does not like that. Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the quotes.

“I don’t really know if there’s a solid number,” Brett Brown said Monday after practice. “I can tell if you were to choose a number, it’s somewhere in the teens.”

“I didn’t know about that, but that’s very disappointing,” Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. “I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice.”

The Sixers being cautious with Embiid is about as surprising as the last Transformers movie sucking.

That said, if any particular game is close going into the fourth quarter don’t be shocked if Embiid breaks his minutes limit — this is a team that wants to start winning, and that means keeping their best players on the court longer. If Saturday night against the Raptors Brett Brown thinks giving Embiid 22-23 minutes helps get them the win, he will. The goal will be to get him up to the high 20s by the end of the season.

The real test for these Sixers will not be how the offense fairs with Embiid sitting — they have guys that can create and knock down shots if needed, such as Ben Simmons or J.J. Redick – instead it’s how well they can defend with him resting.

Report: Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge to two-year, $50 million contract extension

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From troubled to extended, LaMarcus Aldridge‘s Spurs tenure has changed directions in a hurry.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Piecing this together, Aldridge is exercising a $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19. That means his extension is worth $50 million over two years will carry him through age 35. All in all, Aldridge is now under contract for four more seasons.

Aldridge is a borderline All-Star, and he raises San Antonio’s floor. His back-to-the-bask mid-range games remains reliable, and he’s a willing defender. Him signing this deal should end pining for greener pastures, but it certainly won’t force him into diligent acceptance of his role forever. Players can become discontent whenever they please.

This extension significantly limits the Spurs flexibility the next two summers and maybe even in 2020, depending on Aldridge’s guarantee in the second year of his extension. They seem fine with that, perhaps believing they already have enough to topple the Warriors if Kawhi Leonard is healthy.

With Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills all under contract for the few years around Leonard, San Antonio should remain stably good. But will these deals for aging veterans limit the Spurs’ ceiling? That’s the risk for an organization that has built its identity on championships and already has a young, in-his-prime superstar who has proven capable of being the best player on a title team.