Al Horford

PBT Extra: In wide open race, fans push Rudy Gobert for Defensive Player of the Year

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Going into the season, Kawhi Leonard was the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year again, but he’s only played in nine games (so far). Draymond Green was in the mix, and he’s had a good but not great defensive season. Al Horford anchors the best defense in the NBA this season for Boston, but that is more a team effort than Horford dominating on that end.

The race for Defensive Player of the Year is wide open, which is what I get into in this latest PBT Extra video. Joel Embiid has been the favorite most of the season, but the flat-out best defender this season has been Rudy Gobert — when he is on the court the Jazz allow just 97.2 points per 100 possessions. Problem is he missed considerable time with a pair of knee injuries.

So who is the Defensive Player of the Year leading into the final month of the NBA season? I asked you readers on Twitter, and the answer was Gobert with Rudy Gobert at 61 percent, followed by Joel Embiid with 21 percent and Green back with 10 percent.

Gobert has only played in 43 games, the max he can get up to is 56 — did he impact enough defensive possessions to win this award? In 2015 Leonard won his first playing 64 games. Embiid will play in about the mid to high 60s in games (he could play in 71 if he plays in every remaining game, but the Sixers will get him some rest before the postseason) and when he is on the court the Sixers allow a point per possession (100.4 per 100).

Will the voters look at all that and decide to go with Horford or Green? Who knows. It’s wide open.

Three Things to Know: Shorthanded Wizards find way to beat even more shorthanded Celtics

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Shorthanded Wizards find way in double overtime to beat shorthanded Celtics in thriller. Every coach in the NBA preaches the “next man up” mentality to dealing with injuries. But Wednesday night in Boston, the next man up for the Celtics might have had to be some guy coach Brad Stevens pulled out of the first row — the Celtics were without four out of five starters. There was a whole lot of star power not playing — no John Wall, no Kyrie Irving, no Al Horford — but we were still entertained, this was a thriller.

One the road, the Wizards started out with a flat effort, especially defensively, and the Celtics got a big first quarter from Marcus Morris, then Greg Monroe was scoring off the bench, and midway through the second quarter the Celtics were up 20. Marcus’ brother Markieff Morris wanted in on the action, scored 11 in the second quarter to started the Wizards comeback, then in the second half it was like Bradley Beal said “I’m the only All-Star in this game” and just took over, and pretty soon we had a ballgame again.

Boston had the lead by three with 5.5 seconds left, and Washington’s Otto Porter was driving the lane for a layup, Marcus Morris started to contest then realized he should let Porter have a two, but ended up in a no-man’s land and had forgotten about veteran sharpshooter Jodie Meeks in the corner, so we are headed to overtime.

Boston could have won it in the first OT — down two with 8.4 seconds left rookie Jayson Tatum drove the lane, hit the free layup and drew the foul. But you have to hit the free throw to get the and-1 point, and Tatum missed forcing a second overtime.

Tatum had a three at the buzzer in the second overtime but that did not fall either, and the Wizards escaped with a 125-124 win.

The Celtics are pretty much locked into the two seed in the East, they just need to get healthy and the loss doesn’t hurt them in the standings. For the fifth-seeded Wizards in a jumbled middle of the East, this win helps them hold on to their spot and stay within striking distance of the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (Washington is just one game back).

2) Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas, Julius Randle get into it on the bench during game, but afterward it’s all good. On the court, Isaiah Thomas and Julius Randle have developed a little chemistry — Thomas as the playmaking guard, Randle as the bull using his physicality and athleticism to get what he wants inside.

But the two got into it on the bench during Wednesday night’s game against the Warriors. Brook Lopez and Lonzo Ball had to step in and be the voices of reason.

Randle was heated, Thomas looked like he just wanted to explain himself, and by the end of the game it was all good, they were joking and talking Randle put it this way:

“It’s great, honestly. We expect a lot out of each other. It was just communicating. We expect a lot out of each other, we want to win, we expect to win these games and we expect each other to play at a certain level. It’s just us being teammates. There’s nobody I’d rather go to war with than I.T., so it’s nothing personal. We’re just trying to get the best out of each other to try and win the game.”

Nothing to see here, move along. Oh, also the Warriors won the game 117-106 behind 26 from Kevin Durant.

3) Bucks, Heat both lose to tanking teams on Wednesday night. In theory, we don’t know that the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are going to be stuck where they are and finish the season as the seven and eight seeds in the East — both teams are within a game (Bucks) or 1.5 games (Heat) of moving up in the standings.

In practice at this point in the season, if you’re losing to tanking teams it’s a bad sign. And you’re going to finish at the bottom of the seedings (although neither is in danger of falling out of the playoffs).

The Heat fell to the Sacramento — who have been losing but scrappy of late — when Kings rookie De'Aaron Fox nailed another buzzer beater to force overtime.

Buddy Hield had 4 of his 24 points in overtime to help secure the Sacramento win.

The entire Milwaukee squad looked like they had a Disney World hangover — usually teams do this in Miami/New York/Los Angeles, but to each his own — and came out flat from the start against Orlando. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to form with 38 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, but the rest of the team just looked disinterested. Meanwhile, the Magic cared. Jonathon Simmons had a career-high 35 points and drained 7-of-12 from beyond the arc, D.J. Augustin outplayed Eric Bledsoe on his way to 32 points, and Nikola Vucevic dominated inside for stretches and pitched in 22 points.

Daniel Theis suffers season-ending knee injury

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Celtics big Daniel Theis got dunked on by Domantas Sabonis yesterday.

And that was apparently the last notable play of Theis’ season.


Theis, a 25-year-old rookie from Germany, had been useful off the bench. He can guard both centers and power forwards, protect the rim and switch on the perimeter and scoop up rebounds. He even has enough shooting range to space the floor.

The Celtics will miss him.

That starts in the short term, with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown also on the shelf. Already 3.5 games back, Boston is now even less likely to catch the Raptors for the No. 1 seed. At least the Celtics should maintain their lead, seven games, on the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Theis’ defensive versatility looked like it’d be particularly helpful in the playoffs, though. Greg Monroe is a much more polished scorer, but he’s not that level of defender. Perhaps, Boston uses more small lineups that include Semi Ojeleye. Horford (once healthy) and Marcus Morris could get more playing time. But it probably falls on Monroe just to step up.

Three Things to Know: Stephen Curry rolls ankle and sits, Warriors roll on to win anyway

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Stephen Curry rolls ankle, will miss a couple of games, Warriors roll on to beat Spurs anyway. Stephen Curry’s ankles have been an issue this season — he sprained one back on Dec. 4 and missed much of that month getting healthy. Now that concern is back — though not as severe.

Curry rolled his ankle after landing and taking a step on a contested layup less than three minutes into Thursday night’s game against the Warriors.

This is not as severe as the December injury, but he’s going to miss time. Curry did not get on the plane postgame with the Warriors to fly up to Portland for Friday night’s contest, nor will he join the team in Minnesota for a weekend game against the Timberwolves. With the playoffs looming, the Warriors are going to be cautious bringing him back, that said, he’s not expected to miss an extended period of time.

Back in December when he was out, the Warriors tightened up their defense, Kevin Durant took over on offense, and Golden State won seven in a row.

That model played out again Thursday. Durant scored 15 of his 37 points in the final 6:30 of the fourth quarter — including 14 straight.

However, the game really changed when coach Steve Kerr assigned Draymond Green to cover LaMarcus Aldridge — he had 28 points through the first 38 minutes of the game, but his only points after the defensive switch were two free throws with 3.1 seconds play. The Warriors got the win 110-107 — their seventh in a row.

Golden State remains just half-a-game back of the Rockets for the best record in the NBA heading into a tough one Friday vs. the Trail Blazers (winners of eight in a row, and sitting at home rested for this one).

The Spurs have now lost 9-of-12 and while technically the five seed in the West they are tied with the Thunder and Timberwolves in that spot, just two games ahead of falling out of the playoffs entirely. The Spurs’ next two games are at Oklahoma City and at Houston, and they have 10-of-12 against teams currently in the playoffs coming up. It’s strange to say this, but the Spurs are in a battle for their playoff lives.

2) Boston’s Jaylen Brown okay after nasty fall. You can tell how scary this was by how quiet the Target Center in Minnesota instantly got after Jaylen Brown’s fall from the rim following a third-quarter dunk.

Brown did not return to the game after that but Tweeted this after.

He was on the team plane back to Boston, and the Celtics said he would be monitored for concussion symptoms — the headache (and that dazed look after he landed) suggests he may have one. Which is not good, he will miss time with it, but considering how he landed on his head/neck things could have been much worse.

3) Kyrie Irving returns, leads Celtics past Timberwolves without Brown in fourth.
Brown’s nasty fall put a cloud over the fourth quarter for Boston, but by that point the Celtics had a relatively comfortable lead that they never surrendered on their way to a 117-109 victory.

This was not a game with much defense from either side, but Boston had the better offense on the night with the return of Kyrie Irving from injury to lead the Celtics with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, plus eight assists and seven rebounds.

Boston’s Al Horford had 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and their most important player on the night may well have been Marcus Morris with his 17 points off the bench.

Minnesota, searching for consistency without Jimmy Butler and fighting to make sure they stay in the playoffs (the Wolves are just two games ahead of the 9/10 seed Nuggets and Jazz), got a big night from Nemanja Bjelica with 30 points on 16 shots, plus 12 rebounds. Karl-Anthony Towns had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds — but his 12 shots were tied for fourth on the team with Jeff Teague, this is one of the best offensive big men in the game and he’s got to get more touches and shots. Andrew Wiggins had played well since Butler’s injury, until Thursday — with Terry Rozier hounding him for stretches, Wiggins shot 6-of-21 overall including 1-of-8 from deep. He was missing from all over the court, and on open shots at that — Wiggins was 3-of-13 on uncontested looks (via

Minnesota is in a fight to stay in the playoffs the rest of the way, and with Butler out the team needs to defend better and play to its strengths more.

Three reasons to be excited about NBA All-Star Weekend

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Usually, this spot is our three things to know from the night before in the NBA, but for one day we’re changing our focus onto something to look forward to — three things to be excited about for the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.

1. Dunks and threes — All-Star Saturday night is better than the big game itself. We all know this is true, can we just admit it. Sure, the actual All-Star Game on Sunday has all the biggest names (of non-injured players) in one place, but it’s not basketball. Not in any sense we recognize. It’s an exhibition played with less defensive effort than the average pickup game at the Y. We get to see dunks and slick passes, but it feels hollow.

All-Star Saturday, on the other hand, is genuinely competitive. Light-hearted, skills competitions only, but at least genuinely competitive. It’s way more entertaining.

This year’s three-point shooting competition is stacked: Eric Gordon, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, Devin Booker, Wayne Ellington, and Tobias Harris. Thompson is the obvious favorite, and I’d put my money on Beal, but the thing is any one of these guys could walk away with the big prize. They can all shoot the rock.

Then comes the skills competition, where bigs like Joel Embiid, Al Horford, and Andre Drummond go up against little guards such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Lou Williams — the evolution of the game is on full display.

Then there’s the highlight of the night, the dunk contest — every year I get my hopes up (and most years those hopes get dashed). This one has serious potential. Three guards with mad hops — Victor Oladipo, Dennis Smith Jr., and Donovan Mitchell — and then Larry Nance Jr., who has had a couple of the best in-game dunks of the past two seasons (plus his dad won the Dunk Contest). This should be high-flying and intense.

It will be the best show of the weekend… well, outside the Kendrick Lamar performance across the street. It’s all the stuff around the big game that makes the weekend work.

2. Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo — the NBA’s youth are taking over. The NBA’s old-guard — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, etc. — will be in Los Angeles and will have the cameras of the world (and plenty of eyeballs focused on them).

But this All-Star Game is about the future — it’s already here and taking over the All-Star Game.

Sunday we will see All-Star first-timers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic. Then there are second-timers such Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s putting the best and brightest of the next generation out there on the big stage. Joel Embiid on this stage? He’s going to say/Tweet something that will have us talking all weekend. Even if the game and the Dunk Contest fall flat, Embiid alone will be worth the price of admission.

And that’s just the Sunday game — the Rising Stars game on Friday has Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Jamal Murray, Jayson Tatum, not to mention Smith Jr., Mitchell, and more. Sure, the Rising Stars game has less defense played than the All-Star Game — heck, the stationary defender cutouts used in Saturday’s Skills Competition may play better defense than we see in this game — but there is a raw energy in the USA vs. The World Rising Stars game that is just fun to watch.

3. The new All-Star Game format… it’s got to make the game better. Right? The last couple of years the All-Star Game has been such a dud in terms of effort, defense, and entertainment that the Chris Paul and the players’ union sat down with Adam Silver and the league office to figure out how to make it suck less. They decided to shake up the format.

No East vs. West. It’s Team LeBron versus Team Stephen Curry with teams those guys drafted (unfortunately behind closed doors, but the NBA will hopefully get that part right in the future). The draft already led to some drama — LeBron picking Kyrie Irving to be on his team, plus the reuniting of Durant and Westbrook on a team. James Harden throwing lobs to Joel Embiid. Antetokounmpo driving and dishing to Towns. There is so much potential with this format.

I doubt the addition of the increased payout to the winners ($100,000 per player) is going to motivate them much, and the winning team getting to donate more to charity is a nice touch but likely not doing too much. Rather, the hope is that pride — wanting to play for the guy that drafted you, against teammates and friends — will motivate the players. The dream is that will bring some level of effort and caring lacking in recent years.

We’ll see. I’m not sold. But it certainly can’t be worse.