Dwight Howard, James Johnson

Three Stars of the Night: Two big names and a role player

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On any given night, anyone can step up to be the difference maker that leads his team to a victory. Typically, it’s the team’s best player or one of their key starters that does it. That’s why they’re paid the big bucks, after all. Sometimes, though, it’s a role player that comes out hitting shots from nowhere and he’s the guy that, for one night at least, is the hero. In tonight’s contests, we had a mix of both and they make up our three stars:

Third Star: Russell Westbrook (27 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals)

There are nights where Russell Westbrook looks like the best player on the floor. And considering he plays with Kevin Durant, that’s saying something.

Against the Cavaliers, Westbrook had one of those nights where he was the best player on the court, doing everything that he does best and helping his team to get a win in the process. Westbrook was in attack mode all night, getting to the basket with his typical force but also hitting his jumper (he finished 4-6 from three point range) with great consistency. Beyond getting his own shots to fall, he also played great defense and set up his teammates for easy baskets. Just a great overall night for Russ, with plays just like this one typical of his performance:

Second Star: Dwight Howard (23 points, 18 rebounds, 3 blocks)

Dwight Howard isn’t yet 100% physically. There are times where he’s still not as explosive or quick to react to plays as he has been in the past. Against the Kings, though, that really didn’t matter.

Without DeMarcus Cousins to put up resistance in the paint, Howard controlled the area around the basket on both ends of the floor and simply man handled the Kings en route to a great night. He finished inside with relative ease, controlled the back boards, and contested shots in the paint so nothing came easy to the Kings inside. And yes, he even had one of his typical alley oops:

First Star: Wayne Ellington (25 points, 7 made three pointers)

If you happened to miss the game and only saw the final score, you’d probably think the Grizzlies dominated the Heat by beasting them inside with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. And that would be the wrong assumption.

The Grizzlies took down the Heat by hitting a whopping 14 of their 24 three point shots, pouring it on from the outside in a way they haven’t done all year (in several years, actually). In the middle of all that was Wayne Ellington who hit bomb after bomb from behind the arc to loosen up the Heat’s defense. Ellington’s 7-11 from behind the arc fueled the Grizz in this one and gave them a statement win over the defending champs. Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph also had very good nights, but without Ellington’s sharp shooting, the Grizz likely don’t win this one. Watch for yourself:

Report: Sevyn Streeter’s contract with 76ers for anthem prohibited political statements

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)
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Sevyn Streeter said the 76ers stopped her from singing the national anthem last night because she wore a “WE MATTER” jersey.

The 76ers said they use their games to bring people together.

Jan Carabeo of CBS3 (hat tip: CSN Philly):


This has been taken by some as proof Streeter was in the wrong. But the 76ers have a right to determine who uses their platform and how. That legality of the 76ers’ actions isn’t in question.

What should be questioned is the message they sent.

That they’re against any and all political statements defies belief. They have allowed their invited guests to display political messages on the court before. If Streeter wore a shirt that said “Support our troops” – no less of a political statement – would she have been barred from performing? You must believe the answer is yes to believe political statements themselves, not the specific content of Streeter’s, were the problem here.

There’s also something troubling about “WE MATTER” being a political statement, but in the reality of America, the jersey is undoubtedly political. The 76ers silencing Streeter will keep it that way.

Bulls throw back to a different era with poor-shooting starting lineup

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 18:  Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 18, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Bulls defeated the Suns 103-97. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Bulls’ 2016-17 opening-night starters combined to make 133 3-pointers last season.

Twenty-nine players made more themselves.

Chicago was always going to face questions about floor-spacing with Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler starting on the perimeter. But Fred Hoiberg intensified the concern by naming Taj Gibson the Bulls’ starting power forward with Robin Lopez at center.

No NBA team has started a season with such a meager 3-point-shooting lineup in years.

Here’s how many 3s each Chicago starter made per game last season:

  • Rondo: 0.86
  • Wade: 0.09
  • Butler: 0.96
  • Gibson: 0.00
  • Lopez: 0.00

Grand total: 1.91.

Sixty-three players made at least two 3-pointers in their 2016-17 debut.

Obviously, we don’t know how players will shoot this season – especially for the Bulls, who open their season against the Celtics tonight. So, to get a rough estimate, let’s assume each 2016-17 opening-game starter makes the same number of 3-pointers per game he made last season. Here’s how each team would rank. (Because the Clippers, Wizards and Hawks have also yet to play this season, I projected their starters.)


Keep in mind: These rankings give zero made 3s to anyone who didn’t play in the NBA last year, and 2016-17 starters who were in smaller roles last season get no adjustment upward.

That the Bulls are starting five players who started last year and still rank last speaks volumes.

This rough projection gives the Bulls’ starters 1.91 3-pointers per game, but we don’t need to project for previous seasons. We know how many aggregate 3-pointers per game each prior team’s opening-game starters produced that season.

The last team with so few was the 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets with 1.58 – and it had been two years before that since another team had less than Chicago’s projection. Those Hornets went 27-55, though their offense ranked 16th in the league.

These Bulls are truly a throwback to a different era. Teams have come to understand the value of 3-pointers, both for their efficiency themselves and the floor-spacing they provide. There’s a reason no other team dares to start a lineup like Chicago’s.

The Pelicans come closest, but they’re relying on E'Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill taking larger roles. New Orleans’ outside shooting will also improve when Jrue Holiday returns.

The Bulls essentially have their full roster available, and they opted for this lineup – even though there are other options. The simplest would’ve been starting Nikola Mirotic, a stretch four who seemed certain to start given Chicago’s constraints. Gibson might be a better player. He ‘s definitely a better defender and offensive rebounder. But Mirotic’s fit seemed so natural.


Hoiberg can stagger minutes, and Mirotic and Doug McDermott should play key roles as floor-spacers. But the Bulls are committing to starting each half with several minutes of this non-shooting lineup.

Of course, it doesn’t have to go as poorly as history would suggest.

Wade has shown an improved ability on 3-pointers in the preseason. Butler has been up and down from beyond the arc, so it shouldn’t be assumed last year’s poor outside shooting is truly representative.

But Rondo is coming off the best 3-point season of his career, and it seems it might be a fluke outlier. Gibson and Lopez have shown no proficiency from downtown.

Still, there other ways to space the floor. Rondo passes extremely well. Wade excels as a cutter. Butler’s drives demand attention. Gibson can out-muscle opponents to spots. Robin Lopez is exceptionally quick around the paint for a big man.

But 3-point shooting is the simplest and most direct method for creating space. The Bulls will be working from behind there – years behind.

Ben Simmons denies rumor he plans to sit out all season: ‘As soon as they tell me I can play is when I’ll be out there’

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles two basketballs during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Despite rumors agent Rich Paul won’t let Ben Simmons play this season, 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said the No. 1 pick would return from a broken foot during his rookie year. Yet, the last 76ers official who expressed optimism about Simmons’ timeline had to walk it back.

So, I’d prefer to hear straight from Simmons or Paul.

Simmons, via Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

“I’d love to play, definitely,” Simmons said of the 2016-17 season. “As soon as I can get out there, I’d love to play.”

“There’s no timetable on getting healthy,” he said. “I’m working every day to get back and as soon as they tell me I can play is when I’ll be out there.”

No two injuries are alike, so Simmons doesn’t perfectly compare to Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid of prior years. But the 76ers definitely seem to be less precautious with Bryan Colangelo rather than Sam Hinkie. Not that they’ll rush a player back, but if he’s ready, they’ll play him. There’s no more sitting talented players to tank. Philadelphia wants to market Simmons, and that requires getting him on the court.

So, the ball is in Simmons’ court – but he threw it back to the 76ers, saying he’ll follow their clearance call. That’s all they can ask for at this point.

Justin Anderson cuts under basket, reaches back for putback dunk (video)

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One player dunking on another is always fantastic.

But some of the best jams come when the dunker artfully dodges defenders in the first place.

Mavericks forward Justin Anderson did that with this putback slam against the Pacers last night.