Evan Turner

Evan Turner, Sixers defend first place in Atlantic Division


The winner of this contest was going to have the lead the Atlantic Division when the final horn sounded, so we expected a game with a playoff feel.

Instead, we got another lockout game — Boston looked tired and flat on the second night of a road back to back and got routed by Philadelphia, 103-71. Philly was home and motivated to defend the top spot they had all season, Boston just was not physically or mentally ready to challenge them.

We learned nothing about the fate of the Atlantic division in this one. We didn’t learn anything… well, that’s not true, we learned one thing:

Someone at a Philly newspaper should write a column every day saying the Sixers need to cut their losses and trade Evan Turner. Or that Turner has “undisclosed problems” that were holding back his play (something else that was published but team denied later).

Turner came out motivated, attacked the paint off the dribble from the start and finished with a career high 26 points on 19 shots, plus he had 9 rebounds. He looked like what the Sixers hoped they were getting with the No. 2 overall pick, not the player who has struggled to fit into Doug Collins system. He was hot early and sparked the Sixers blowout win.

Philadelphia came out more aggressive than they have seemed in recent weeks. Turner was the ringleader but all the Sixers were attacking the rim. Elton Brand was playing well, the Sixers got out and ran and before you could blink the Sixers were up 9 and had 16 of their first 20 points in the paint. That energy carried over all game as the Sixers were up 33-17 after one quarter. Boston had no energy to counter and shot just 36 percent for the quarter.

It got worse for the men in green. Boston was shooting 10-31 and had 21 points midway through the second, meanwhile Sixers went on a 14-0 run to pull away and lead by as many as 28. It was 55-33 Philly at the break as Boston shot 34 percent for the half. The Sixers missed too, but they had 11 offensive rebounds.

Boston looked like an old team in a condensed schedule ad is now in 0-6 on second game of road back-to-back. Paul Pierce had 16 but this was a garbage time fourth quarter where both teams just played their benches.

We really didn’t learn anything about the fate of the Atlantic Division in this game. We know both teams want to win it (as do the Knicks) because it means at least a four seed in the East, meaning you avoid Miami and Chicago in the first round. The Sixers had one good night, we’ll see if they can carry it over.

Same goes for Evan Turner.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.