Birth of a rivalry: a Heat-Celtics primer

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The Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s season opener, 95-89. They would go on to defeat the Cavaliers in six games, paving the way for Cleveland’s end as a contender. They began LeBron James’ year by beating him and they ended his year by beating him.

Coincidence?

Okay, yeah, probably so.

When the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics meet tonight in TD Northbank Garden, it won’t decide how either of their seasons will go. It won’t be a premonition of things to come (barring an unfortunate injury that would rob us of a great player on either side, knock on wood). It won’t change either of their chances to win the NBA title this season, nor establish one team’s dominance over the other. What it will do is three-fold.

I. The Cast Is Introduced

Miami has enough questions marks on it right now the Riddler is using them as a secondary costume. We don’t know anything about this team, not even from preseason. Pick and roll? Two-man game? Give and go? Pinch-post? What? What are we going to get? We need to learn way more about how this team functions in both role-oriented and play-oriented constructs before we can get a handle on where they sit in the food chain. If in fact they’re not running a set that maximizes the talent on that team, that just hopes to grind teams down with their ability to play basketball? That’s a far cry from a fully functional death machine.

Boston’s just the same. We’ve heard KG is healthy. We need to see it, full speed. Same for Pierce. We need to see Rondo come back with focus after a summer where he looked frazzled and worn. Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal have to stay healthy and spry for this team to compete, and neither are known to be so. There are questions on this team, even as their pedigree is resolved. We have to get a feel for what this team is setting itself up to be, rather than what it says it is.

II. Matchups, Always Matchups

Pierce-LeBron is fairly familiar. Rondo-Wade is to a certain degree, but not really. KG-Bosh as well. But everything else is an unknown entity, including how Boston chooses to attack the Heat defensively. This game will be represented as a Heat-offense vs. Boston-defense, but in reality, it’s going to be won on the other side. Because the Heat are going to score, and Boston will get some stops. It’s the other side that creates a lot more questions. The Heat’s preseason defense looked phenomenal… in the preseason. Can they match up with this team? Can James stick to Pierce and keep him off that elbow-jumper? Can Bosh man-up and keep Garnett from killing him in the post? Can Wade stick to Rondo and can their help defense rotate like it’s going to need to? These are all things we need to see.

III. Who’s Ready For The Challenge?

Desire is the clichéd and biggest part of this game, this season, this league. It’s such a ridiculously corny concept, and yet it holds true year after year after year. And tonight will be largely about desire. Which team wants this more. Which team wants to send a message to the other that it’s in charge of this conference now, regardless of history or hype? Sure, Boston can lose this game like it can lose any regular season game and rely on their prowess in the postseason. But if they want to set the tone, to put that doubt in Miami’s mind, and to let the media, fans, and world know that they’re still the top dog, and now with the biggest dog of them all in Shaq, they are the favorites now and forever, they need to show Miami that.

Miami, for their part, have every expectation in the world beating down on them. Win, and the season is off to a storybook start for the Triad, and all the haters will have to live with the knowledge that this team is legit, if only in terms of being a top seed in the East before they get a chance to prove it “when it counts.” Lose? And the questions rain down, the pressure ramps up, and everyone’s that’s criticized them from day one will be forming a mob to throw tomatoes in print and cyber-space at them. It will be about their egos, their heart, their pride and not about Boston’s man-help rotation to the strong side or the size advantage on the glass. This is the reality the Heat have made for themselves, and now they have to live with it. Tonight there’s a lot we’ll see that won’t matter. But how this team decides to represent itself from the start? That’s something worth watching.

 

Kevin Durant says he and Draymond Green have agreed to move on after spat

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Will Kevin Durant leave the Golden State Warriors in free agency this coming summer?

It’s entirely possible, and the big argument between Durant and fellow Warriors teammate Draymond Green last week led many to speculate that it might have an impact on the former’s pending free agency.

Both Green and Durant are back on the same floor for Golden State, and in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports Durant said that the row won’t have any effect on him choosing to stay or leave the Warriors.

Speaking with Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Durant said that he understood Green’s personality and that he had decided not to let the dust-up affect him moving forward, presumably toward their ultimate goal of another championship.

Via Yahoo:

“I never really felt like it was a problem, because I know Dray and he says some crazy [expletive] out his mouth all the time,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But on top of that, it was just that there was so much coming with it from the outside, and so much stuff that we have to answer now.”

“I was upset, but I know that I can’t hold on to something like this,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I know that I’ve got to make a choice with myself, like how long are you going to be upset about this to the point where you’re going to let it affect what you do on the floor or how you approach the game? Once it gets there now, I got to make a grown-man decision and tell myself, ‘Look, man, no matter what, you still got to come to work every single day. It’s going to work out. It’s going to figure itself out.’ And I think everyone’s been handling it the best way they could and we’re just trying to move forward with it.”

All of Durant’s quotes are worth reading for more context on the biggest free agency of 2019. There’s a lot to unpack there, and if you have paid attention too much of what Durant has said in the past, it’s hard to put any weight on any comments given to Haynes in this instance.

Durant isn’t the most forthcoming person, and his angling when it comes to his career seems both clumsy and transparent at times. Durant could be seen mouthing what appeared to be an indication that he was going to leave the Warriors while on the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers, and we won’t get any direct comment on that anytime soon.

Durant did what he needed to do. He made public comments about how he is going to move forward from here on out so the Warriors can continue their run of dominance through the NBA. But short of signing a new contract (or both players holding a joint press conference where it’s clear from their faces that things are A-OK) everyone is going to assume there’s tension building under the surface with Golden State all season long.

Wizards fans are now wearing bags over their heads (PHOTO)

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The Washington Wizards are bad, and Tuesday night’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers won’t make up for that. John Wall‘s 30-point night won’t make up for that. Any kind of staid quotes from the coaches or players won’t make up for that.

The story is that this team just plain doesn’t like each other, and it’s hard to see how that will change enough to keep this core together. The Wizards front office is already taking calls for potential trades, and teams like the Charlotte Hornets are inquiring about stars like Bradley Beal.

Of course, fans in D.C. are not taking the news of the team’s pending separation lightly. As folks started to pour into the Capital One Arena on Tuesday, at least one fan showed up with the universal symbol of a vote of no confidence.

Via Twitter:

Washington beat Los Angeles, 125-118, but that won’t make up for the general malaise surrounding the franchise.

Given how long the Jimmy Butler Saga continued with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I don’t have any confidence in NBA teams to get trades done in a timely fashion anymore. But the tipping point seems to have been reached in our nation’s capital, and the Wizards will probably shake things up soon.

Watch Toronto’s Danny Green hit game-winning shot over Magic (VIDEO)

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The Orlando Magic gave the Toronto Raptors a bit of a scare on Tuesday night. After a close game and a late lead by the best team in the East, it was the Magic who appeared ready to snd things to overtime.

As things came to a head at the end of the fourth quarter, both teams found themselves gunning for the win as time wound down. The Raptors were up by two points when they missed a 3-point attempt by Kyle Lowry with 12 seconds to go.

The Magic grabbed the rebound and quickly called timeout. That allowed Orlando to reset themselves, resulting in an Evan Fournier bucket with just 2.3 seconds to go and the teams tied, 91-91.

Enter Danny Green.

Via Twitter:

Green hit the clutch shot with less than a full second to go, and the Magic were unable to score on a long-distance heave.

Late shot by Green helped the Raptors win, 93-91. Toronto moved to 14-4 on the year as they sit solidly in first place. Orlando is currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

Report: Sixers rookie Zhaire Smith has lost 20 pounds since allergic reaction incident

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The Philadelphia 76ers are still dealing with the apparent allergic reaction that rookie Zhaire Smith had to some kind of food material in the team facility. The team already knew that Smith had a peanut allergy, but it was revealed later that he also had a sesame allergy.

We were originally expecting Smith to see the floor again sometime in December. But now it looks like that timeline has been pushed back. According to the Ringer, Smith has lost 20 pounds since his allergic incident, and it’s not clear whether he will return this season.

Via the Ringer:

Several reports stemming from the November 9 background briefing mentioned that Smith had “lost weight” over the past month and a half, but I was told that he lost “upward of 20 pounds.” For someone who’s listed at 199 pounds on the team website, that’s significant. As is the difference between Smith not playing in 2018, as reported, and “being in danger” of not playing at all this season, which is how it was explained to me. I was also told that he had more than one procedure to address the issue, which is evidently what the Sixers meant by the fuzzy “additional medical treatment” line. (The team had no comment, according to a spokesperson.)

The Sixers are a curious source of medical drama. Point guard Markelle Fultz apparently will be seeing a shoulder specialist to further diagnose whatever issue he is having with his shooting stroke.

Even still, Philadelphia sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and they just traded for Jimmy Butler. The NBA is a weird league, so having a Eastern Conference Finals-hopeful squad with these types of issues — I suppose — shouldn’t surprise us by now.