Kurt Helin

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Celtics, Sixers will play each other in London on Jan. 11

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The NBA is headed to London for the eighth time, and this time they are bringing two of the best stories in the league with them.

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics will play a regular season game on Jan. 11 at the O2 Arena in London, it was announced Thursday.

That’s a lot of young talent on the Sixers — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington — going against what may be the best team in the East in the Celtics with Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and company.

Traditionally the London game is the only one the teams play that week as the league allows them time in London and to recover from the jet lag after returning.

We also know Sixers will be playing on Christmas Day against the New York Knicks, likely the first game of that five-game package on a day where the NBA dominates the sports scene.

The full NBA schedule is expected to be released this week.

Rockets’ draft-and-stash Sergio Llull goes down with reported ACL injury

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Spanish point guard Sergio Llull probably holds the mythical title of “best current player never to have played in the NBA.” The point guard for Real Madrid who led that team to a preseason win over the Thunder last year was drafted in the second round in 2009 by the Nuggets, the Rockets bought his draft rights, and they have tried for years to lure him to the NBA.

Llull will miss EuroBasket and could miss the upcoming season after going down with a nasty non-contact knee injury that is being reported as an ACL issue.

This is unfortunate news, it’s never good to see a player go down like that.

It doesn’t really impact the Rockets, who obviously are pretty set at point guard this year with Chris Paul and James Harden. Llull is under contract with Real Madrid through 2021 and has said he plans to honor that deal.

David Blatt said his end game is to return as head coach in NBA

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David Blatt’s team was 30-11 and coming off a trip to the NBA Finals when he was fired mid-season in Cleveland. It was ultimately this simple: LeBron James and other key players did not like Blatt much, and if the Cavaliers were going to win a title, they needed everybody to be all-in. Blatt was shown the door, Tyronn Lue got the job, and the Cavaliers brought the first major sports title to Cleveland in five decades.

Blatt is back coaching in Israel, but told the Jerusalem Post his ultimate goal is to return to the NBA (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I have an end game and that end game is that I would really like to go back to the NBA,” Blatt told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“There were no changes in the NBA this year from a coaching standpoint and my real goal is to try next year to get back into the league as a head coach. It may happen and it may not happen. But I wanted to leave that door open for myself if the opportunity arises.”

Blatt’s name came up in the last coaching hires in New York and Sacramento, but after missing out he signed to coach Turkish team Darussafaka (where he remains, having turned down a lucrative three-year offer from Maccabi Tel Aviv so he could keep his NBA options open.

On paper, Blatt deserves another chance: The guy knows the game and his teams in Cleveland won 67.5 percent of their games.

The question is, did he learn how to better relate to NBA players — who have the power — than he did before. Blatt came in expecting deference and credit for all his titles and success in Europe, but NBA players shrugged at that. Blatt needed to be the smartest guy in the room, always, and with that made some odd lineup and play-calling choices. That said, a lot of what he wanted the Cavaliers to do — play faster, share the ball more freely with less isolation — were things Tyronn Lue wanted and got them to do. The question was never did Blatt know what the Cavs needed to do, it was could he get them to do it?

Anywhere he goes in the NBA, the dynamic will be similar (not quite LeBron like in power, but elite players are what franchises are built around) and Blatt has to adjust to it. If he can get buy in from players, he can win, but if he can’t he will be gone again quickly, back to Europe where coaches have the dictatorial power of an American college coach.

NBA confirms two Mexico City games; Nets, Heat, Thunder headed south

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The annual NBA regular season games played in London are disruptive — those teams play one game in a week with a lot of rest on either side to deal with travel and jet lag.

The annual games in Mexico City present no such problem — a flight from New York to Mexico City is shorter than one to Los Angeles.

The NBA announced it is returning to Mexico City for two games in December – the Brooklyn Nets will face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 7, and then will face the Miami Heat, Dec. 9. Both games will be played at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico.

 

The NBA is sending some stars to Mexico this season: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Hassan Whiteside, Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell. There are currently no players born in Mexico on an NBA roster.

The NBA views itself as a global league that reaches out to Europe, China, and other basketball hotbeds around the globe. However, it also recognizes the power of growing the sport’s popularity both in Mexico and with immigrants — especially second and third generations — in this country. This is a step along those lines.

Reports: Ty Lawson, Donatas Motiejunas sign with same team in China

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Used to be, some fading NBA players would head to Europe for a couple more nice paydays — not NBA money, but good money nonetheless.

Now those guys are heading to China — that’s where the money is.

Enter Ty Lawson and Donatas Motiejunas, who are heading to the same team in China.

ESPN confirmed that Lawson, who played last season in Sacramento, is heading to China. Sportando reports that Motiejunas is headed there on a $3 million deal (more than he would have made on an NBA minimum contract).

Lawson’s quickness and scoring ability are going to see him put up big numbers in a Chinese league where defense borders on optional. That could catch the eye of NBA teams looking for veteran point guard depth headed into the playoffs — remember the Chinese season ends in February or March (depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs) so both Lawson and Motiejunas could get picked up by an NBA team for the postseason.