Kurt Helin

Isaiah Thomas on Boston defense: “We’re not as good as we thought we were”

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It’s just a couple of weeks into the season, but the Celtics have the second-best offense in the NBA to this point, scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions.

They also have the 29th ranked defense, giving up 110.2 per 100.

The defense was the reason the Celtics dropped a 123-107 game to the Nuggets in the Boston Garden Sunday. Denver is an underrated team, but Boston’s defense has been bad and after the game Isaiah Thomas owned it, as you can see in the video above courtesy CSNNE.com.

“We’re not as good as we thought we were. When we don’t come out with a sense of urgency, we’re not a good team, and that’s what happened tonight….

“At this point, we’re all talk (about a good defense). That’s all we’re doing. So until we put it together in a full 48-minute game and show what we can do at that end, we’re not gonna be a top defensive team.”

To be fair, injuries are a part of this. Al Horford has been out with a concussion, while Jae Crowder remains sidelined with a sprained ankle. Marcus Smart missed time with an ankle injury of his own, and Avery Bradley has been playing through shoulder pain.

But that doesn’t explain 29th. This team played much better defense last season (100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), and the core of it is back this season. There is a lack of focus and effort, something we’ve rarely seen from Brad Stevens teams.

The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing it, so at least Thomas and the Celtics have taken that step. Expect to see the defense improve over the coming weeks (especially as guys get healthy).

Matt Barnes rips Pelicans for releasing injured Stephenson; team feels it had no choice

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Another NBA season, another Pelicans’ team ravaged by injuries. The latest was Lance Stephenson, who had come to camp without a promise (after he couldn’t land a deal this summer), made the squad, and played well for the team to start the season on a non-guaranteed contract. However, he suffered a torn groin muscle that will require surgery.

That prompted the Pelicans to waive Stephenson so they could sign Archie Goodwin.

Releasing an injured player is not common around the NBA and the Kings’ Matt Barnes went off on it on Instagram.

New Orleans saw things differently. The team was down to 11 healthy players (not enough to dress a full team), they had a full roster of 15 and couldn’t just add a free agent player, Stephenson was on a non-guaranteed deal (just a $100,000 guarantee), and this was the move they had to make. Marc Stein of ESPN put the Pelicans’ side forward.

Remember that Jrue Holiday is away from the team caring for his newborn baby as well as wife Lauren, who recently had a brain tumor removed. Nobody is pressuring him to return, but he is not injured.

Barnes is right, the NBA can be a cold-hearted business. Players can be that way with teams, but more often it’s teams with non-star players, treating them like replaceable parts. It can suck. It’s also the business, one for which NBA players are well compensated.

Between this season and his performance at times last year, Stephenson will get another chance somewhere when healthy. I can understand why Stephenson — or Barnes — don’t like the optics on this, but so long as they are true to their word about helping his rehab and getting him right, well, it’s the way things go sometimes.

NBA Power Rankings Week 3: Clippers climb to second behind Cavaliers

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This early in the season it is all still small sample-size stuff, so one good game or one bad one can skew the numbers — and send teams farther up and down these rankings than likely is where they finish. That said, the top of the board looks about right, or at least what we expected heading into the season.

 
Cavaliers small icon 1. Cavaliers (6-0, Last Week No. 1). The NBA’s last undefeated team had more trouble with the Sixers than the short-handed Celtics. Cleveland’s offense is carrying them — best in the NBA so far — and the defense is good enough when needed but wasn’t impressive against Houston or others. So far not having a decent backup point hasn’t hurt Cleveland, but you have to wonder if at some point that depth is an issue.

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (5-1, LW 3). Los Angeles has the best defense in the NBA so far this young season, they are doing a great job of forcing opponents into midrange jumpers. The win on the road at San Antonio might be the most impressive win of the season (and it has us overlooking the home loss to OKC). If the Clippers can stay healthy and can get a playoff showdown with San Antonio, L.A.’s athleticism could be real problem for the San Antonio.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (5-2, LW 2). An impressive 4-0 start on the road this season is probably the best indication of how good they really are (they have already lost more home games this season than they did all of last season, two). The Spurs will be without Tony Parker for a week due to a knee injury — but that’s not all bad, the starters are more than 50 points per 100 possessions better this young season with Patty Mills playing instead of Parker.

 
Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (4-2, LW 4). This team simply doesn’t have the margin for error it did last season. When focused and defending, like they did vs. OKC, this team can blow out anyone — and Stephen Curry can still put up 23 points in a quarter. But they lost that focus and drive the next night and found themselves upset by the Lakers (and Curry goes 0-of-10 from three). While the ball is still moving, they have shown a few areas of weakness so far and defensive rebounding is the biggest Achilles heel (29th in the NBA).

 
Thunder small icon 5. Thunder (5-1, LW 6). While the loss to a motivated Golden State got the national attention, this is a team playing harder than everyone right now (including the Clippers, who they beat the night before the GSW game). They still are relying on a stout defense and getting buckets on the break — 20 percent of their plays this season are in transition, the highest percentage in the league (and they are scoring a decent point per possession doing it).

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (4-2, LW 9). DeMar DeRozan remained red hot, scoring at least 30 in his five games this season, until Sacramento on Sunday (an ugly Toronto home loss). Toronto bucks the NBA trend by relying on DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and others to create their own shots — only 44.9 percent of their buckets are assisted, lowest in the league — but it works for them. Big tests this week at Oklahoma City and Charlotte.

 
Hawks small icon 7. Hawks (4-2 LW 5). This is a team not taking full advantage of the soft part of the schedule (and it gets tougher this week with the Cavaliers and Bulls). However, the defense is second best in the NBA at 94 points allowed per 100 possessions and that is getting them wins. Mike Budenholzer is using Dwight Howard well, not just giving him the ball on the block but also in the high post and places where he’s asked to facilitate, not just score. It’s got Howard involved beyond just defendable post ups.

 
Hornets small icon 8. Hornets (4-1, LW 11). The soft schedule this week — Philadelphia and Brooklyn — helped them look good and pad the record. That’s about to change and we’ll see just how good this team is this week when they face Indiana, Utah, Toronto, and Cleveland. I suspect the Hornets are quite good (they are moving the ball well on offense), but that’s a brutal stretch.

 
Pistons small icon 9. Pistons (4-2, LW 13). Tobias Harris has been one of the more efficient scorers in the NBA this season with a true shooting percentage of 64.8 percent. Soft schedule helps them keep picking up wins despite being without Reggie Jackson. Detroit’s 0-2 on the road and they have a tough stretch of 6-of-7 away from the Palace, and this week is particularly tough with games against the Clippers, Spurs, and Nuggets.

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (4-3, LW 17). Gordon Hayward returned Sunday, scored 28 points (good warm-up game against a soft defense in the Knicks), and the Utah offense just looks better with him on the floor. They closed the game with George Hill, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gobert (until he fouled out, then Derrick Favors came in) and that group could do some real damage.

 
Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (4-3, LW 10). The loss to Phoenix on the road was not pretty, but they bounced back in Dallas and then got a quality win in Memphis. Their defense, particularly in the paint, has been inconsistent and with that they lose some games they probably should win. Still, when Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are on this team can beat anybody and is a lot of fun to watch.

 
Lakers small icon 12. Lakers (4-3, LW 24). Luke Walton has them playing at the fastest pace in the NBA so far this season, and the team is loving it — they love basketball. The biggest surprise of this season to me is the play of Nick Young — he had 24 in Sunday’s win against Phoenix, but more than that he’s moving the ball, playing a mature game, and not just showboating. If I were cynical, I’d say that’s upping his trade value, but right now he’s at the heart of this team playing entertaining basketball.

 
Bucks small icon 13. Bucks (4-3, LW 21). They had one of the best offenses in the NBA before a dismal Sunday night in Los Angeles (which was more about them then the Mavericks). Jabari Parker has been fantastic this season, scoring 17.6 points per game and doing it inside and out (38.5 percent from three), and he’s got a PER of 18.8. He and Giannis Antetokounmpo are carrying Milwaukee’s offense.

 
Celtics small icon 14. Celtics (3-3, LW 8). Second best offense in the NBA so far this young season, but the second worst defense in the league has been holding them back. Injuries hit Boston early: Al Horford was out with a concussion against the Bulls and Cavaliers, and the team had been +23 per 100 possessions better with him on the court through the first three games. Then Jae Crowder rolled and ankle and will miss some time. Yet they got a win over the Bulls and keep finding a way; I expect them to find a groove with a softer schedule this week.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (3-3, LW 7). Dwyane Wade already more threes this season than all of last season, and he has sparked a Bulls’ offense that is third in the NBA this young season. The problem is their defense has been inconsistent at best, and they are getting killed on the pick-and-roll. Maybe those Bulls numbers will improve as they head into a soft part of the schedule for a few weeks — they should help them rack up wins.

 
Rockets small icon 16. Rockets (3-3, LW 14). The third worst defense in the NBA so far this season, on the other side the fifth best offense with James Harden putting up fantastic numbers. So, about what we expected out of Houston. Sam Decker looks very comfortable and is playing well in the D’Antoni system. A home-and-home against the Spurs this week will be a real test.

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (3-3, LW 16). Emanuel Mudiay was off to an ugly start this season (shooting less than 30 percent) when everything came together and he went off for 24 points in the first quarter against Boston. That kind of quarter is not sustainable, but he should be better than the first few games. With Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic it shouldn’t be a surprise Denver gets 12 percent of its offense from post ups, the highest percentage in the league.

 
Pacers small icon 18. Pacers (3-3, LW 18). Larry Bird wanted to play faster and have a better offense — and they are playing 2.5 possessions faster a game and scoring nearly four more points per 100 possessions — but that has come at the expense of the defense, which is giving up 7.7 more per 100. Jeff Teague has been one of the bigger disappointments in this young season. Maybe run more dribble handoff plays, where they’ve had success (1.26 points per possession). Heavy home stretch of games coming up, plus a home-and-home against Philly, should help Teague and the Pacers get right.

 
Grizzlies small icon 19. Grizzlies (3-4, LW 12). The good news is that Chandler Parsons is back in the lineup as of Sunday and that should help both the ability to spread the floor and shot creation. And they need those things, because the Grizzlies offense was unimpressive last week when the three balls were not falling. Hopefully Parsons’ return helps the lack of depth on this team as well.

 
Heat small icon 20. Heat (2-3, LW 23). They have the eighth-best defense in the NBA this young season thanks to Hassan Whiteside patrolling the paint and some decent perimeter defenders. But the 24th ranked offense has this team below .500. Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters have really struggled on offense, as evidenced by their PERs — 8.5 for Winslow and 6.5 for Waiters. Those are “get sent to the D-League” kind of numbers.

 
Magic small icon 21. Magic (3-3 LW 29). They had a softer schedule last week and they took advantage of it beating the Sixers, Wizards, and Kings. They got those in spite of a defense that continues to rank in the bottom 10 in the league despite the talent on paper to be much better. Tougher tests this week with Chicago, Minnesota, Utah, and Oklahoma City on the docket.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (3-5, LW 15). The Kings played terrible defense and started 0-4 on a tough East Coast road trip (the kind of trip where playoff teams still get some wins). Then they got to Toronto Sunday, slowed the NBA’s leading scorer in DeRozan, and picked up an unexpected win. Best news for Kings fans is that Darren Collison returns from his suspension this week, which strengthens the starting lineup and pushes Ty Lawson to the bench to lead the second unit.

 
timberwolves small icon 23. Timberwolves (1-4, LW 20). The record doesn’t reflect how well this team is playing — they keep losing close games, which feels a lot like last season. Then again, Minnesota’s numbers are skewed by a blowout win over Memphis the night the Grizzlies rested nearly anyone you can name. No Ricky Rubio for a while with a sprained elbow, which is not good for an already below-expectations defense.

 
Nets small icon 24. Nets (2-4, LW 22). Jeremy Lin is out for a couple weeks with a hamstring, and with Greivis Vasquez already out injured the Nets offense is going to struggle. Brook Lopez has played well when he gets help, Trevor Booker hustles, but without those guards to create Brooklyn is in for a rough stretch. Cross-town showdown at Madison Square Garden this week.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (2-4 LW 19). Kristaps Porzingis needs more touches — and the Knicks finally did that in Chicago (and got the win). I get that they added Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee and others who will take up some shots, but Porzingis is the future and his touches and shots per minute are down this season. He’s the future, get the man the rock. A quality win in Chicago in an emotional game for Rose and Joakim Noah — Rose was dishing in that game better than he has all season. But they then turned around and fell at home to Utah.

 
Suns small icon 26. Suns (2-5, LW 27). Devon Booker is tearing it up, with 38 and 39 points in his last two games respectively — the last Sun player to break 35 on consecutive nights was A’Mare Stoudemire nine seasons ago. That’s your bright spot. The Phoenix offense doesn’t share the ball and the defense has been pedestrian.

 
Mavericks small icon 27. Mavericks (1-5, LW 26). Harrison Barnes has been as good as Dallas could have hoped for, but with Dirk Nowitzki out (Achilles) and Deron Williams battling nagging injuries, this team has struggled. And dug themselves a hole. They have the suddenly-hot Lakers then the Warriors this week, Dallas needs a split or that hole will start to get too deep. Also an aside to Mark Cuban, you’re better than banning media members.

 
Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (1-4, LW 25). Challenging schedule to start the season, but they beat the Hawks at home — then lost to Orlando. Bradley Beal has struggled (29.6 percent from three) after getting a max contract this summer, which has him leading the disappointment train. Washington had double digit leads in all their losses last week but faded in the second half, a troubling sign for a team where the schedule gets tougher this week (Boston, Cleveland, Chicago).

 
Pelicans small icon 29. Pelicans (0-6, LW 28). Injuries have ravaged this team — they only had 11 healthy players after Lance Stephenson needed groin surgery. (That’s what led to Stephenson being waived, his contract was not fully guaranteed, and they needed to create a roster spot for Archie Goodwin). However, the guys still healthy and getting run not-named Anthony DavisSolomon Hill in particular — have been the bigger disappointment. I liked moving Omer Asik to the bench, but this roster’s problems are deeper.

 
Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (0-5, LW 30). Despite how much fun it is to watch Joel Embiid play and think of the potential, and despite the clever passing of Sergio Rodriguez, Philadelphia has the worst offense in the NBA by a mile — 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse than New Orleans. That’s why they blew leads in the fourth quarter last week. They have a home-and-home against inconsistent Indiana this week, that could be a place to grab a “W.”

Because of Vice President campaigning, some Cavaliers had to Uber to game Saturday

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Add some Cavaliers players to the long list of Americans who can’t wait for this election to be over…

LeBron James was on stage with Hillary Clinton Sunday trying to help her motivate her base in the swing state of Ohio. The day before, his teammates were stuck in campaign traffic and were later than normal arriving at the game.

Saturday the Cavaliers took on the Sixers in Philadelphia — in Pennsylvania, another swing state. That’s also where Vice President Joe Biden was campaigning for Clinton, and the Cavaliers team bus was on the wrong side of his motorcade. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

After their bus was stopped for more than 20 minutes waiting for the motorcade to pass, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert left it along with team security personnel and hopped in an Uber to finish their trip to the Wells Fargo Center.

They arrived approximately 65 minutes before tipoff….

“My whole warm-up’s jacked,” Shumpert told a team staffer. “I’m going to have an attitude. Better not get fouled hard tonight.”

The trio didn’t beat the team bus by much, according to the report, but you can’t blame the guys. There are few things as frustrating as sitting helplessly in traffic when you have somewhere to be.

Those guys had been on the second team bus (NBA teams usually run two buses to games, one for guys who want to get in early for a workout/to hone parts of their game, the second 45 minutes later and that usually has the veterans and guys that will play most of the game).

Three things we learned Sunday: The Lakers are playing fast, having fun, winning

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It’s still early in the NBA season, there’s a lot of small sample size theater going on, but we are starting to get a sense of who teams are and what they are about. That was true Sunday, here are three things we learned while you were being touched inappropriately by a ghost

1) The Lakers are playing fast, having fun — and winning. The Lakers love basketball.

It sounds simplistic, but that mantra is at the core of what Luke Walton has done to turn a young team into one of the must-watches of League Pass so far this season. The Lakers are unburdened by expectations, have been freed from the shackles of Byron Scott, there is no Kobe Bryant to soak up half the shots — and the result is entertaining and occasionally beautiful basketball. And they are winning. The Lakers are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA this season, averaging 110 points a game, and after a victory over Phoenix Sunday night they are over .500 at 4-3.

There have been transformations. Nick Young, Lou Williams, and Julius Randle are thinking pass — Young led the team with 24 points Sunday and has looked like a mature, complete player. A year ago, Randle would have gone right at Tyson Chandler in a little 1-on-1 they were having, instead at a crucial moment he kicked it out to Jordan Clarkson for a big three. Not that Randle isn’t going to the rack and finishing, too.

Walton also brought the Warriors switching all picks defensive mentality, and it’s working fairly well (the Lakers are middle of the pack defensively), particularly late in games. There’s a lot of Warriors actions in the Lakers offense now (more on that to come later today) — and that’s a good thing, it means ball and player movement, not isolation and stagnation. There are still steps the Lakers need to take — D’Angelo Russell is shooting 35.6 percent, the team as a whole is turning the ball over too much, and Brandon Ingram is a work in progress — but you can see the growth curve for this team. And you should see them; the Lakers have become fun to watch.

2) Harrison Barnes has been impressive despite Dallas’ record, leads team to first win. Harrison Barnes in the preseason had Mavericks’ fans asking “what did we get ourselves into?” With reason. But once the games have mattered he showed he has figured out how to be a No. 1 option and he has impressed — Barnes dropped a career-high 34 on the Bucks Sunday, the second time five games he put up 30 (something he did once his entire time as a Warrior). Sunday it included a driving layup with :13 on the clock to force overtime against the Bucks, then was a force in OT (with smaller players switched onto him) to get the Mavs the win.

Barnes is a work in progress — it still looks like he is thinking a lot out there, he’s not fluid and instinctive with his moves. However, he is fundamentally solid and is scoring almost an equal amount off the catch and off the bounce. He gets in a good triple-threat position with the ball and makes the smart decision. When he drives he explodes. And right now, he is killing it in isolation and from the midrange. Check out his shot chart for the season.

Barnes shotchart

Barnes isn’t playing in a way that makes you think “I need to vote for this guy to be an All-Star” but he is playing well. He just needs some help around him.

3) Utah looked much better on offense with Gordon Hayward back. Early on Sunday, Gordon Hayward looked like a guy who had been out injured, a guy trying to shake off the rust of missing much of camp and the start of the season with a broken finger. Because he was.

But with the game on the line late against New York, the Jazz rolled out a lineup of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gobert (when Gobert fouled out Derrick Favors came in) and it was smooth. Just flat-out better than what the Knicks could muster. Hayward gives them another shot creator besides Hill, plus Hayward can space the floor from three and gives a good defensive effort. Hayward finished with 28 points on the game to lead the Jazz, and it was nice he got to ease back into the NBA by playing against the Knicks.

That Utah went 3-3 without Hayward is a very good sign for their playoff chances, I expect this team to be a top-five seed when we head to the playoffs, If they can just stay healthy.

Bonus Thing We Learned: We found out what happens when Kristaps Porzingis and Rudy Gobert run into each other in the paint. Damn. First this:

Then this.

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