Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is very good. And Cavaliers win.

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You know why the Cleveland and Washington were on the NBA opening night schedule along with marquee teams like the Lakers, Heat and Celtics? Because the NBA likes to showcase its future, and here were John Wall and Kyrie Irving to entertain you… except John Wall is out for a while with a cracked patella.

That’s okay, Kyrie Irving can put on enough of a show for both of them.

Irving dropped 29 points and keyed a 14-4 run late and the Cavaliers fought to hold on and win a game they should have run away with against a depleted Wizards team, final score 94-84.

Watch that game and you came away reminded that Irving is on his way to joining the stratosphere of NBA point guards — he’s not Chris Paul or Deron Williams yet, but he will get there. He has the shot (he was knocking down threes) and the court generalship to get there and he displayed them all. Most importantly, he picked the right times to shoot and the right times to dish.

There were other bright spots if you’re a Cavs fan — Anderson Varejao owned the glass and had 23 rebounds, 12 of them offensive; Tristan Thompson had a dozen points, 7 in the fourth quarter during the Cavs run to seal the game; and rookie Dion Waiters completely outplayed his counterpart Bradley Beal.

Still this game was a lot tougher than it should have been. The game was tied 24-24 late in first quarter as Washington puts up points by pushing ball in transition and kicking out for three –Beal has figured out to run to the arc in transition and the Cavs had not figured out how to cover that.

But then late in the first the Wizards went cold shooting — 28 percent in the second quarter — and by the half the Cavaliers had pulled away. They led by 11 at the half and by 16 at points in the second and third quarters.

Varejao was a big part of that as he was hustling on the glass and really wanted the rebounds, which set him apart from seemingly everyone in a Wizards uniform. Remember that Varejao was tearing up the boards last season until his broken wrist.

Then the Cavs looked like a young team that couldn’t close out games. Washington made a 14-0 run start the fourth quarter behind the offensive powerhouses that are Jannero Pargo and Jordan Crawford (who led all Wizards with 11 points). A lot of that has to do with some terrible defense by the Cavaliers bench.

One thing you can take away from this game — Washington is going to struggle to put up points until John Wall and Nene return. The shot 35.6 percent for the game and 25 percent from three, and let’s just say this is not the best defense they are going to see in the next week (two games against Boston, plus the Pacers).

Once Irving and the starters for the Cavaliers got back in the game, order was restored. It wasn’t an impressive win, not when guys like Donald Sloan are getting a lot of run, not the way the Cavs bench played. But it’s a win to start the season, the Cavs will take it.

Oh, and Kyrie Irving is really, really good.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

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Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.