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Game of the night: The running of the Celtics

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Boston is supposed to be the old men. Miami is supposed to be the young bucks unstoppable in transition.

Then why is it that that all night long Boston was the team pushing the ball in transition, getting some easy buckets on the run? Miami was slowed, hesitant. It speaks to where these teams are in the maturation process, how big the gap is between them.

That running helped Boston built a double-digit early lead in this one, they got that all the way up to 20 then held on at the end to get the win, 112-107.

What we saw opening night was confirmed Thursday — right now Boston is the better team. This wasn’t Miami not being used to each other, this was Boston executing their game plan, believing in the system in a way Miami does not yet. The Celtics have much stronger defensive principles, but what matters more is they stick to them. Boston knows who it is and what it wants to do. The Celtics execute when Miami could not or would not.

The Celtics put up 61 first half points shooting a fantastic 67 percent eFG% (field goal percentage that includes a bump for hitting threes), in part because of the easy buckets they got in transition. Also in part because they had fantastic ball movement. Ray Allen benefited from that, plus he was just hot and finished the game with 35 points having hit 7 of 9 from three. Meanwhile Miami was shooting 44 percent eFG% for the first half. Boston literally ran their lead up to 20 in the third quarter.

Miami’s talent is not going to allow any win over them to be easy. The Heat cut it to 10 at the end of the third. They got it down to seven a couple times late and had open looks at threes to make it four points. At one point near they end they got it down to three.

Miami made that surge in part because LeBron James had a Cleveland game — he dominated the ball out top, ran a lot of pick-and-rolls and got his points the hard way. That system works pretty well, it got Cleveland a lot wins. It just never got them where they wanted to go.

LeBron had to take over in part because Dwyane Wade was ice cold, 2 of 12 for the contest. Several times he dribbled into pressure along the sideline, then made poor passes out of it. Just not his night.

Chris Bosh was solid on offense, 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting. After the game Erik Spoelstra said it was the most aggressive bosh had played.

It was on defense where Bosh struggled. He was pushed around, did not grab boards, and seemed a passive spectator. The Celtics went right at him on defense, and he did not respond. His slow rotation on the spectacular Rajon Rondo dunk was just the most glaring example of a bad defensive half. I have stuck up for Bosh not playing well this season in the past, tonight I stop that.

Udonis Haslem tried. You can tell he realizes how far the Heat have to go to be a team in the way Boston is. To beat a team like that. So he pushes and has maybe his best game of the season — 21 points on 9 of 10 shooting, plus 10 rebounds.

But the Heat have a ways to go. They let Boston dictate the terms of this game. Right now, the Celtics are the defending champions who look good and Miami is a 5-4 team struggling to find out exactly who they are. They have a season to do that, if Miami fans can be patient. But the road is a long one.

Report: Thunder almost definitely won’t trade Russell Westbrook this season

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook negotiated himself a raise of more than $8 million and chalked it up to loyalty.

Is the feeling mutual?

The Thunder can trade Westbrook six months after he signed his contract extension, which make him eligible to be dealt Feb. 4. The trade deadline will be a few weeks later.

Would Oklahoma City trade its franchise player during that narrow window?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year.

Building around Westbrook is certainly the Thunders City’s first choice. According to this report, they’ll give that route at least a full season to work.

But is there truly no worst-case scenario for the season’s first few months that would convince Oklahoma City to abort the plan early?

The Thunder became accustomed to winning big with Kevin Durant. It’s one thing to know they’ll take a step back after his departure to the Warriors. It’s another to live it every day.

Oklahoma City doesn’t want to lose Westbrook in 2018, when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. One reported plan is trying to sign Blake Griffin next summer, and that would certainly require Westbrook’s continued presence.

It’d also likely require the Thunder winning at a reasonable clip next season. Griffin probably isn’t leaving the Clippers for a crummy team, even if it’s to his native Oklahoma.

Winning will also be a key ingredient in persuading Westbrook to stay. Absent that, the other way to get value from him is trading him, and he’ll be more valuable if traded in February. Teams will covet the extra half season and playoffs with him on the roster.

Of course, that also applies to the Thunder. If Westbrook can help them reach the postseason and maybe even make some noise in it, they’ll gladly ride him.

But if the playoffs become a far-fetched dream by the trade deadline… I’m curious just how devoted Oklahoma City remains to Westbrook in that scenario.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.

76ers butt of Daily Show joke about Donald Trump’s plan

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 31:  Donald Trump sits courtside at the New Jersey Nets and the Chicago Bulls game at the Izod Center on October 31, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the term and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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This is why the 76ers fired Sam Hinkie.

They’ve become a national laughingstock, even beyond NBA circles.

Philadelphia’s younger players developing and the addition of a couple veterans should help the team become regularly, rather than historically, bad. But the 76ers haven’t yet escaped the dismal reputation that became an embarrassment to ownership (which will still reap the rewards of Hinkie’s Process).

See this clip from The Daily Show on Donald Trump’s policing plan for the latest example (hat tip: CSN Philly).

 

Report: Lakers signing Zach Auguste

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 27:  Zach Auguste #30 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a basket in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Wells Fargo Center on March 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Lakers have given 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – a guaranteed salary for next season.

But they could open a roster spot by trading (ha!) or waiving Nick Young.

Who could fill it? One candidate: Undrafted Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Auguste is probably getting a partial guarantee, but I wouldn’t pencil him in for the regular-season roster just yet – even if the Lakers waive Young. I expect the Lakers to sign multiple players to partially guaranteed deals and bring them to camp to compete.

If they waive Auguste, the Lakers could assign his D-League rights to their affiliate, the D-Fenders. Ideally, though, he’d make the regular-season roster – but that outlook will probably be true for multiple Lakers by the time training camp begins.

Auguste is a skilled interior scorer who excels in the pick-and-roll and can also post up. He improved greatly as a rebounder last season, but how much of that is due to outgrowing his competition as a senior? He’s already 23. Auguste has shown no range on his jumper, and he’s not a rim protector. Despite his mobility, his pick-and-roll defense is also lacking.

Good for the Lakers getting him in their pipeline, but don’t expect too much.