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Three things we learned Tuesday: Boston’s defense is its funeral, not Wizards

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA Tuesday night while trying to find cheaper parking than a $74,000 space….

1) Washington wants to credit the all-black funeral attire for the win. Really, it was Boston’s poor defense. Boston and Washington have developed a fun rivalry, one that has gotten chippy in a couple recent meetings. Arriving for Tuesday’s game, the Wizards wore all black — because they were going to the Celtics’ funeral (figuratively not literally).

Then the Wizards went out and handled the Celtics 123-108 behind 31 points from Bradley Beal, while John Wall had 27 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. Just ask Kelly Olynyk how good Wall was playing.

That’s 14 home wins in a row for the Wizards.

The Celtics were frustrated, to the point that Marcus Smart got into it with an assistant coach on the bench, but after the game apologized (and it was a good one, a genuine apology, not one just written by the PR staff).

That’s three losses in a row, and the reason is Boston’s defense — they are allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions in January, 26th in the NBA. Their defense hasn’t been good all season (22nd in the league overall) but it has taken a step back the past few weeks. The Celtics are 6-4 in the month because their offense has been improved (fourth best in the NBA for the month) behind the surging Isaiah Thomas, but their poor defense is starting to catch up with them. There are a number of factors in the Celtics’ defensive decline, but the undersized Thomas is a big part of it — in January, the Celtics defense is 15 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court (to be fair, the offense is 17.4 per 100 better when he plays, so Brad Stevens is going to play him). The Celtics defense is particularly getting exposed in the fourth quarter and, according to Synergy, when teams go to isolation sets — Boston has man defenders that can be exploited.

The Celtics remain the three seed in the East, just 1.5 games back of the Raptors for the two seed, but if Boston has playoff dreams beyond the first round they have to sure up their defense. Quickly.

2) Andrew Wiggins with the game winner and Minnesota has a win streak. The young and improving Timberwolves have won three in a row. Sure, those wins were against an injury-ravaged Clippers team, the Nuggets, and the Suns, but the Timberwolves will take it. Tuesday’s win came thanks to Andrew Wiggins, he had 31 points including the game winner as the clock ran out — a good shot where he played through the contact of a good defender in P.J. Tucker and got to his spot on the floor.

If Timberwolves fans want to dream big, their team is just 2.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, although Minnesota would have to leap three other teams (Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento) to “win” the final playoff spot in the West (Denver has the spot now and is six games below .500, and remember the reward for getting that spot is Golden State). Minnesota has improved as the season has gone on — the young team is making fewer mistakes — and they are 6-6 so far in January. This team isn’t coming together as fast as predicted, there are still roster questions (starting at point guard), but they are improving. And still just loaded with talent.

3) Blake Griffin returned for the Clippers, but that couldn’t stop them from blowing a 19-point lead to the Embiid-less Sixers. The good news for the Clippers is Blake Griffin returned to the court after having been out since mid-December with knee surgery. Los Angeles needs him and particularly his playmaking with Chris Paul out – Griffin had a few nice plays where he drew the defense and found teammates for good looks. Los Angeles is much better with him on the court right now.

But that still couldn’t stop Los Angeles from blowing a 19-point lead to Philadelphia. With Joel Embiid sitting out.

The Sixers went on to win by a comfortable 121-110 margin, and Nerlens Noel led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.