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Three things we learned Wednesday: Boston’s defense cost it another game


As the nation tried to get through its election hangover Wednesday, the NBA had a full slate of games. If you were trying to sleep it off, here are three things we learned.

1) Boston now has the worst defense in the NBA, it cost it another game Wednesday. The Celtic defense is not just bad — it is measurably the worst defense in the NBA this season, allowing 112.3 points per 100 possessions (according to Worse than the Knicks. Worse than the Rockets. Worse than the Magic, Blazers and everyone else coasting on that end. That defense is costing the Celtics games.

The latest example: the Washington Wizards. They had scored just 97.7 points per 100 possessions (24th in the NBA) coming into Wednesday night’s game against Boston. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the rest had been struggling — then against Boston they put up 118 points, a 125.8 per 100 offensive rating, and Porter drops a career-high 34, making plays all over the court.

It was ugly early for Boston — 34-8 Wizards at the end of the first quarter — and the Celtics were not digging out of that hole. The Celtics have now trailed by at least 20 points during each of their last three games (that happened just eight times all last season).

The Celtics were top five in defense last season and brought back the same core in the same system — so what has happened? Injuries play a part, with Al Horford (a good defender) and Jae Crowder out, plus Marcus Smart missed the first few games of the season. But this is more than that. Boston is struggling to defend the pick-and-roll, particularly defending the roll man (who is scoring 1.11 points per possession on that play against the Celtics) — their rotations are not sharp. Beyond that, it just seems to be an effort thing. One scout pointed to how poorly they are closing out on jump shooters — that’s not skill or size, that’s just effort.

I expect Boston will turn this around defensively, but until they do there will be ugly losses like the one Wednesday against Washington.

2) Atlanta makes a statement with back-to-back wins over Cavaliers and Bulls. The Atlanta Hawks would like you to know they are for real this year. Or at least as real as we’re going to declare any team eight games into the season. Do you want evidence?

• Atlanta just dropped both the NBA champ Cavaliers then the surprisingly hot Bulls on a back-to-back.

• Atlanta is outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions (second only to the Clippers this season).

• They have the third-best defense in the NBA and a Top 10 offense so far.

• Each night a different guy seems to step up, against the Bulls Wednesday it was Thabo Sefolosha.

We could go on, but you get the idea — the Hawks are 6-2 with the Sixers next up. Dennis Schroder is growing more comfortable and is attacking as the starting point guard, Paul Millsap is still playing like an All-Star. Dwight Howard has fit in well — he’s been a beast on the boards, defended well, and Mike Budenholzer is using him brilliantly, putting him in situations where he’s asked to do more than just score (and Howard is fully buying in). The bottom line is we knew Cleveland would be elite in the East this season, we knew Toronto would be good, but after that we had questions about which other teams would step up. Atlanta is stepping up.

3) DeMar DeRozan continues to tear up NBA (as do Raptors), he and Russell Westbrook put on a show. DeMar DeRozan leads the NBA, averaging 34.1 points per game. Russell Westbrook is second at 31.1.

So when those two get together, you know there will be a show — DeRozan had 37 points, Westbrook 36 in the Raptors 112-102 win in Oklahoma City Wednesday.

DeRozan has scored at lest 30 points in six of the Raptors first seven games. The last two players to do that (according to ESPN): Bernard King and Michael Jordan. When you’re scoring at their rate, good things happen.

The Raptors are 5-2 on the young season and look like a team that can match last year’s historic run, at least so far.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard report ‘couldn’t be anymore incorrect’

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A pattern is emerging.

A report said there’s a disconnect between Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. Leonard’s uncle denied it.

A report said San Antonio held a players-only meeting to implore Leonard to play. Danny Green denied it.


Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN wrote the latest article. Michael C. Wright and Ramona Shelburne contributed. These are credible reporters.

At minimum, someone wants the information out there. That alone makes this an issue. The Spurs, so unaccustomed to dealing with this noise, are facing it now.

Is every detail in the report accurate? Is it accurate overall? I don’t know.

But Green is loyal to San Antonio. Him shooting down a report of disarray means something, but it doesn’t mean everything.

Report: Spurs held players-only meeting imploring Kawhi Leonard to play

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Gregg Popovich’s thinly veiled attempt to pressure Kawhi Leonard into playing apparently had an effect – on Leonard’s Spurs teammates.

They, apparently led by Tony Parker, confronted Leonard.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs held a players-only meeting to implore All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard to return to the lineup and help the team in its push for the playoffs, league sources told ESPN.

Spurs guard Tony Parker, a four-time NBA champion, quarterbacked the meeting with his teammates and Leonard after Saturday night’s victory over Minnesota, league sources said.

The conversation was described as tense and emotional at times, league sources said.

Several teammates spoke up, expressing frustration and confusion over a growing divide with Leonard that has created significant tension between the franchise star and the Spurs, league sources said.

Leonard, 26, was resolute in response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quad injury this season, league sources said.

That optimism around Leonard? It just went up in flames like Nick Young‘s Forever 21 clothing.

The Spurs have cleared Leonard to play, but he and his medical team don’t feel he’s ready. That’s an uneasy disagreement, but not necessarily illegitimate. Players know their own bodies and can sometimes sense problems doctors can’t identify. As of a few weeks ago, Popovich said Leonard was doing what he’s supposed to do.

So, a locker room full of players telling Leonard to play anyway sounds pretty unhealthy. It’s a shocking development in San Antonio, where the Spurs’ culture is recognized as arguably the NBA’s best and where the team is known for erring on the side of caution with injuries.

Fairly or not, Leonard probably invited this showdown with his handling of the injury. He told teammates he’d return to play then repeated the message publicly while adding soon. He reportedly targeted last Thursday, but a week later, he remains out. The disconnect between him and the franchise certainly didn’t help his teammates understand his point of view.

That disconnect was largely pinned on Leonard’s quiet nature, which makes it so rattling to imagine him facing a room of frustrated and confused teammates. Good for Leonard for standing up for himself if he truly isn’t ready to play.

But his teammates’ questioning will only increase the belief he’s just malingering. After all, if anybody could relate to him, it’s other professional athletes – especially Parker, who had a similar injury and recovered much more quickly (which doesn’t prove anything about Leonard, but certainly could influence opinion).

After the meeting, Manu Ginobili said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“He is not coming back,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn’t be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball.”

That sounded as if Ginobili were just trying to talk him into that mindset, so he’d stay sharp while Leonard remained out and wouldn’t be disappointed by a continued absence. But after knowing Ginobili got information straight from the source, that comment looks much more telling.

Kelly Olynyk nutmegs Kyle O’Quinn to set up Josh Richardson dunk (video)

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In the Heat’s rout of the Knicks last night, Kelly Olynyk scored 22 points and dished a career-high 10 assists.

This was the prettiest, a pass between Kyle O'Quinn‘s legs to Josh Richardson, who dunked.

Malik Beasley stumbles, bumbles, fumbles during turnover (video)

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Malik Beasley isn’t a point guard, but he was playing the position for the Nuggets in garbage time of their win over the Bulls last night. And Torrey Craig‘s pass was low and behind Beasley, which is why Craig was assigned the turnover.

With those caveats acknowledged, Beasley’s contortions as he tries to corral the ball are something to behold.