Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics got their first gold star this summer, convincing Al H0rford to join their solid young core. That was step one in returning Boston to contender status (well, probably step two, hiring Brad Stevens was step one), and it has worked when Horford has been healthy — they are 5-2 in games he plays this season. They are vastly better when he is on the court.
But if they want to challenge Cleveland, Boston needs another star player.
That Ainge is hunting for said star is about as big a secret as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s breakup. That the Celtics have the picks and young players to make an enticing offer to any team who decides to move a superstar is also common knowledge — if a superstar is put on the block Boston’s assets move it to the front of the line.
From all indications speaking to team sources around the league, Danny Ainge is still after the major trades the C’s president of basketball operations knows are needed. And no doubt he’s loving each story calling the 2017 draft one of the deepest and most talent-laden in many years, understanding that such talk could raise the value of the Nets’ pick that can be theirs.
The problem isn’t Ainge being willing, rather it is who is available? So far the Kings continue to rebuff calls about DeMarcus Cousins. The idea that Chicago would move Jimmy Butler was more fantasy than reality from the start, and it’s certainly not happening now that the Bulls are playing well. Washington is a year away (at least) from starting to think about breaking up John Wall and Bradley Beal. It’s hard to imagine Larry Bird trading Paul George. Doc Rivers isn’t breaking up the Clippers’ core with them playing well.
And so it goes, with Ainge trying to be patient and the fan base feeling impatient. Welcome to life in Boston.
Report: In addition to Norris Cole, Grizzlies to look at Kendall Marshall, others with Conley out
Point guard Mike Conley is out for at least six weeks with a fractured vertebrae (although, depending on the vertebrae, maybe he returns sooner). With that Grizzlies’ depth issues become incredibly clear: With Conley on the court Memphis is 19.3 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits. Pair Conley and Marc Gasol on the court together the Grizzlies are +7.9 per 100. Or look at it this way, with Gasol and Conley paired this season the Grizzlies are +81, without them they are -88.
Memphis’ lack of depth is going to be an issue, they will fall back on Wade Baldwin and Andrew Harrison to fill in for now. But they want more depth, and are going to look at free agents (as of Dec. 3 they can apply for a hardship and temporarily add a 16th person to the roster). Norris Cole’s name already came up.
With the possibility that the Grizzlies could apply for the exception, creating a 16th roster spot, the Grizzlies plan to start working out free-agent point guards, league sources told The Vertical. Included among the several players expected to visit the Grizzlies for tryouts: Kendall Marshall, Toney Douglas and Will Bynum, league sources told The Vertical.
Other reports say Mario Chalmers, who was playing fairly well for the Grizzlies will before rupturing his Achilles last season, will not be brought in for a workout.
Cole is playing in China but has an NBA opt-out clause. Marshall was just picked up by the Reno Bighorns of the D-League off waivers. None of these answers are very good.
The Grizzlies are 11-7 in the middle of the pack in the West to start the season, but the basketball gods have soured on them and injuries are piling up: Chandler Parsons (bone bruise), Brandon Wright (ankle) and James Ennis (calf strain) have missed games due to injury lately, while Zach Randolph was out Monday due to the death of his mother.
Memphis needs to find a way to keep its head above water for the next six weeks or so and not fall so far out of the playoff race that they can’t find their way back when healthy. That’s easier said than done.
Watch Draymond Green make two key blocks late, then dance
Give the Atlanta Hawks credit, they made the Warriors work for their 12th straight win (which is saying something, the previous 11 the Warriors had won by an average of 19.1 per game).
In the end, the Warriors got the buckets they needed from Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry (25 a piece), but it was Golden State’s defense that sealed the game. The Warriors held the Hawks to 27 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, including 3-of-10 in the paint.
The Warriors defense took a while to come around, but it is currently eighth best in the NBA overall, and over the last five games it is the best in the NBA (allowing 91.1 points per 100 possessions). Pair that with the Golden State offense and… damn this team will be tough to beat four out of seven.
Three things we learned Monday: Westbrook now averages a triple-double for the season
1) Russell Westbrook now averages a triple-double — for the season. It’s not even December yet and already we’re starting to run out of superlatives to pair with Russell Westbrook. On Monday night, angry Russ was just one assist away — let’s say Joffrey Lauvergne knocked down an open jumper — from having his third-straight triple-double by halftime. He easily got his eighth of the season, finishing the night with 27 points, 18 assists, and 14 rebounds leading the Thunder to a 112-103 win against the Knicks.
What is stunning is Westbrook is now the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double this far into the season — Robertson finished the 1962 season with a triple-double, and after Monday night Westbrook is officially at 30.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. Anyone who doubts if he can keep it up hasn’t watched the unleashed fury with which Westbrook is playing this season, now that Kevin Durant moved west.
Here’s what makes Westbrook’s accomplishment even more impressive: The Thunder play at a pace of 99 possessions per game, back then Robinson’s Cincinnati Royals played at 124.9. That is 26 more opportunities a night for shots, assists, and rebounds that Robinson had.
Westbrook was 9-of-23 shooting Monday night, which isn’t very efficient, but he got some help from Enes Kanter who had 27 points on 17 shots off the bench and helped lead a second unit that sparked a second quarter comeback and held the fort down in the fourth while Westbrook got some rest.
That’s three straight wins triple-doubles and three straight wins for the Thunder, who improve to 11-8. The question about Westbrook winning MVP — and we’re a long way off from that discussion on that topic — was would the Thunder have enough wins for some voters’ tastes. The question wasn’t going to be production, but how far he could lift the team (Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and others didn’t win MVP in their best statistical seasons because the team wasn’t good enough). The last three games Westbrook has shown he can lift this team up, the only question is how far he can carry it.
2) Warriors have won 12 in a row, and they beat the Hawks with defense. In its 11-game win streak heading into Monday night, Golden State had won its games by an average of 19.1 points per game. They haven’t just been winning, they’ve been blowing teams out.
Which is what made Monday night interesting — Atlanta made them work for it. Atlanta got off to a fast start this season to a great part thanks to their defense and they protected the paint well all night: The Warriors were only 12-of-20 at the rim all night. It took a few things for the Warriors to get the win, such as Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala sparking a 21-7 run from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth that gave the Warriors the lead for good, or the Hawks helping out by shooting just 7-of-29 from three (Kyle Korver had just one).
But the real key for Golden State was their defense once they got that lead late. Draymond Green had just four points on the night (2-of-9 shooting) but was tremendous on defense in the fourth quarter — he blocked Dennis Schroder then Kent Bazemore on drives, and he was the key reason the Hawks shot chart looked like this in the fourth, when Atlanta shot just 27 percent.
After a tough defensive start to the season, the Warriors are now eighth in the NBA defensively and playing well on that end.
Green — with the help of his coaches and teammates — has already started to wage a campaign for Defensive Player of the Year. He has come in second in the voting twice, he wants it. Much like with Westbrook and the MVP race, it’s far too early to have a serious discussion about end-of-season awards when we’re not even to December, but this is these are the kinds of plays DPOYs make — and if you make them, you can dance.
3) DeMarcus Cousins was again a beast. Again the Kings lost anyway. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Kings went into this season with high playoff aspirations, but they keep suffering losses in games they should win — despite the play of their star.
On Monday night DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings in points (36), rebounds (20), and assists (4). He was the guy who drove in isolation and got past Marcin Gortat for the final two Kings buckets in regulation to tie the game, then contested John Wall’s potential game winner that missed as time expired. Boogie was fantastic.
But the Kings lost, 101-95 in overtime, and fall to 7-11 on the season. There were a few reasons Washington won, and it give the victors and their stars credit — Bradley Beal had a strong night with 31 points, while John Wall finished with 19 points and 11 dimes. However, the biggest difference was the benches. It was a tight game at the end of the third when Cousins and Rudy Gay went to the bench for some rest, and pretty soon Washington went on a 10-0 run. Cousins helped dig his team out of the hole, but that was all he could do. Washington leaned heavily on its starters (they played 24 minutes together and were +5), but their bench made plays.
And with another loss, the vultures — in the form of other teams’ GMs — continue to circle Sacramento, looking to pick off Gay, or Omri Casspi, and eventually Cousins himself. Go ahead and argue the Kings are just two games back of the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West right now, but unlike Los Angeles, Sacramento doesn’t look like a playoff team.
Kevin Durant leads Warriors past scrappy Hawks, 105-100
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) —Kevin Durant had 25 points and 14 rebounds, Draymond Green blocked two shots in the final 43.4 seconds and the Golden State Warriors held off the Atlanta Hawks and their strong bench 105-100 on Monday night for a 12th straight victory.
Stephen Curry scored 25 points with four 3-pointers, and Klay Thompson added 20 points as Golden State’s Big Three each reached 20 points for the second consecutive game.
The Warriors won their seventh straight home game and fifth in a row against Atlanta at Oracle Arena while welcoming back Green from a one-game absence while injured.
Durant knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:57 left in the third quarter that pulled Golden State to 76-73. Then, as the period wound down, he dribbled over midcourt and found Ian Clark for a long 3 to beat the buzzer and cut Atlanta’s advantage to 81-80.
Durant’s jumper to start the fourth put the Warriors ahead, and Andre Iguodala followed with back-to-back baskets. Iguodala finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Durant recorded a double-double in consecutive games for the second time this season and had his sixth performance with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Yet in the first half, the Warriors hardly looked like their usual efficient selves on either end and trailed at halftime for the fourth time and second at home. They committed 11 turnovers that led to 16 points for Atlanta, got burned on defense while giving up easy baskets and missed their own open looks in shooting just 45.2 percent.
Green returned after missing Saturday’s hard-fought win against Minnesota because of a bruised left ankle sustained in a collision a night earlier at the Lakers that left Clark with a throat injury. Clark also sat out Saturday.
Green quickly made an impact in this one, forcing a turnover on Atlanta’s first possession and emphatically pointing to signal it was Golden State’s ball. He dished out seven assists and first made a big block against Schroder before stuffing Kent Bazemore to finish with four blocks.
Malcolm Delaney and Thabo Sefolosha scored nine points apiece as Atlanta’s bench contributed 37, but the Hawks lost for the sixth time in seven games since beginning the season 9-2.
Some fans lined up in their cars at the Oracle gates at lunchtime for a chance to be among the first 10,000 to receive the first Durant bobblehead with the Warriors.
At the gates where the coveted dolls waited, members of the event staff closely guarded the special souvenirs.
Hawks: They dropped to 4-1 on the second night of back-to-backs. … Atlanta is 0-3 on the road against Western Conference teams and hasn’t beaten the Warriors away from home since Feb. 25, 2011. … The Hawks held a 51-41 rebounding advantage, falling to 8-3 when winning the battle on the boards.
Warriors: Golden State is 5-0 vs. Eastern Conference teams after going 27-3 against the East last season. … Durant was chosen Western Conference Player of the Week, his 25th such honor and first since joining Golden State. During a 4-0 week by the Warriors, he averaged 24.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.75 blocks and a steal in 32.3 minutes. … The Warriors recalled C Damian Jones from the D-League Santa Cruz Warriors but he was inactive and will play again in the D-League before getting any Warriors action, coach Steve Kerr said. … Golden State finished below 30 assists for the second straight game after going 10 in a row with 30 or more.