Game of the Night: Boston holds off Miami’s late surge

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Well, the Miami Heat won’t be going 82-0 this season. The experienced Celtics were able to handle the Heat on Tuesday night, winning by a final score of 88-80 and making the Heat look terrible at times, holding Miami to nine points in the first quarter and just 30 points in the first half. The Heat were able to threaten the Celtics late, but the 2008 champions were firmly in control for much of the game. Here are some thoughts from the season opener and Wade and James’ first official NBA game together:

1. LeBron reminded us what he is and isn’t.

LeBron James more or less picked up where he left off last season. After a very slow start, James was able to show the skills that won him the last two MVP awards, as well as some of the issues that have kept him from winning a championship. With Wade and Bosh both having horrible nights, Miami’s offense was the LeBron show.

James was unable to establish any kind of offensive rhythm against the brutally effective Boston defense that knocked him out of the playoffs last season. He couldn’t find any space on pick-and-rolls, wasn’t able to get any easy opportunities by moving without the ball, and couldn’t create a quality passing lane to save his life. LeBron finished with only three assists and eight turnovers, and it was clear that Boston’s defense wasn’t allowing him to play the way he wanted to, especially in the half-court. Some of LeBron’s turnovers occurred because his teammates weren’t ready for passes, others occurred because he tried to complete a pass that wasn’t there, and some turnovers were the product of pure carelessness. But all of them illustrated just how uncomfortable LeBron was with unfamiliar teammates and an all-too-familiar Boston defense shadowing his every move.

Even with all of that going on, James was the best player on the court for much of the game. He scored a game-high 31 points by shooting over the defense (James scored 15 points on 13 shots taken outside of the paint, and most of them were contested), simply running over his defender, or converting an open-court opportunity. It was impressive to behold, but it wasn’t enough to beat Boston in 2008, it wasn’t enough to beat Boston in last year’s playoffs, and it wasn’t enough to beat Boston on Tuesday night.

James’ three major offensive weaknesses all hurt Miami on Tuesday night. His free-throw shooting was shaky, and Miami could have used the four points LeBron left at the line late in the game. LeBron only posted up twice, and failed to get a basket both times. His shot selection remains bizarre, and he took a few of his ill-advised but predictable “heat-check” threes when he would have been better served setting up the offense.

More importantly, James’ new running mates weren’t able to take any pressure off of him. Bosh and Wade both played terribly, and LeBron never established chemistry with either of them. When that happened, James was forced to try and do everything himself, and was ultimately put in a position to be betrayed by his weaknesses. When James was off the floor, disaster struck — the Heat were outscored by nine points during the five minutes James sat. Simply put, this was not the kind of game LeBron had in mind when he decided to come to Miami.

2. Boston is in midseason form.

It’s stating the obvious, but I’ll say it anyways: Boston looked like a team that has been playing together for a lot longer than the Heat have been. Boston picked apart the Heat’s swarming defense by moving the ball from side to side, having Rajon Rondo attack the open space to open up drive and kick opportunities (Rondo had 17 assists; the Heat had 15), dumping the ball down low to exploit Joel Anthony’s lack of size, and knocking down their open threes, especially when they mattered most. Almost every shot the Celtics took was a high-percentage look; 78 of the team’s 88 points came from inside the paint, the free-throw line, or beyond the arc. That’s what an offense rolling on all cylinders looks like.

Defensively, the Celtics didn’t seem to miss either Kendrick Perkins or assistant coach and defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau; they shut down the paint, rotated on shooters, and forced 17 Heat turnovers. On Tuesday night, the Celtics looked like a team rather than a collection of talents.

3. The Heat might be a bit deeper than we think.

The less said about Wade and Bosh’s performances (a combined 7-for-27 from the floor, with seven turnovers), the better. Wade looked rusty, and Bosh just looked overwhelmed — this is the first time Wade has played more than three minutes of organized NBA basketball since April 27th, and Bosh isn’t going take over against a defense like Boston’s without James and Wade opening things up for him a bit.

The good news for Heat fans is that Miami got some solid contributions from players who weren’t expected to contribute much this season. Eddie House looked like a man possessed; he made some great defensive plays (I’m serious), was all over the court, did a decent job of handling the ball, and nailed some open threes. James Jones had two big threes that kept the Heat in the game in the fourth quarter. Zydrunas Ilgauskas did a great job on the boards, and Miami’s offense actually looked really good when they gave the ball to Ilgauskas in the high post and actually started to move without the ball. It’s obviously an absurdly small sample size, but the fact that the Heat were +17 in Ilgauskas’ 11 minutes of play may be worth noting.

James, Wade, and Bosh are going to do the heavy lifting for this team, and Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller (when he returns), are going to play major roles. However, the other seven players on the Heat roster are going to have to produce at times, and it’s going to be a major advantage for the Heat if they can trust players like House and Ilgauskas to play significant minutes.

That’s all from me on this game. Great win for the Celtics. The Heat should take some comfort in keeping the game close when they were so completely outclassed for most of the game, but this is not the way they wanted to start their season.

John Wall scores 40, dishes 14 assists as Wizards drub Lakers

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WASHINGTON (AP) Amid all of his team’s losses and infighting and roster flux, John Wall showed just how well he’s capable of playing, producing 40 points and 14 assists to lead the Washington Wizards past a sluggish LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, 128-110 Sunday night.

A day after he and Lonzo Ball each registered a triple-double in a win at Charlotte, James was limited to a season-low 13 points, along with six rebounds and three assists, while making just five of 16 shots. The four-time NBA MVP sat out the fourth quarter.

The Wizards emphatically ended a four-game losing streak, going up by as many as 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the third.

They took full advantage of an opponent playing on a second consecutive night, although James and the Lakers had been 5-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets this season.

The Lakers opened Sunday’s game by going 5 for 19, 0 for 8 on 3s. Washington, meanwhile, made its first five shots and 13 of its first 18, taking a 26-8 lead on Wall’s layup.

Wall’s play was often spectacular, including one no-look, through-the-legs pass to Sam Dekker for an easy bucket.

The All-Star point guard ended the first half with a step-back baseline rainbow jumper over 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler to make it 71-51. Wall turned and slapped palms with a couple of front-row folks, then spread his arms wide and basked in the ovation.

By then, Wall already had 28 points, outscoring LA’s five starters – James, Ball, Chandler, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – by six.

Recently acquired reserve forward Dekker scored a season-high 20 for Washington, including a buzzer-beating bank shot at the end of the third quarter that put the hosts ahead 99-76.

Washington’s Bradley Beal added 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 25 points for the Lakers, 15 in the second quarter.

Washington was without starting center Dwight Howard, who had back surgery, and injured starting forward Otto Porter Jr., while a pair of players – Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers – were unavailable because they are on their way out of town via a trade that is still not officially complete.

“We’re playing against one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before tipoff, “and we definitely are undermanned.”

Didn’t matter on this night.

TIP-INS

Lakers: C JaVale McGee missed the game with flu-like symptoms. … A pair of sneakers James wore during a game at the Wizards a year ago Monday – one black, one white, with the word “equality” in capital gold letters on the back of each – was recently placed on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. … Ball finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Wizards: The deal bringing Trevor Ariza to Washington from the Phoenix Suns is still not official, so Oubre and Rivers were listed as inactive Sunday because of “trade pending.” … Markieff Morris left at halftime because of a neck strain. … Porter missed his third game in a row with a bruised knee. … Jeff Green started in Porter’s place and scored 20 points.

UP NEXT:

Lakers: At Brooklyn on Tuesday to close a four-game road trip.

Wizards: At Atlanta on Tuesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Paul George asked Billy Donovan not to run plays for him last year

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Oklahoma City Thunder are top-heavy team. Outside of their top three or four players, the Thunder aren’t very deep, and if any either Russell Westbrook or Paul George are out for any length of time, they are in serious trouble.

This season the Thunder are a surprising 18-10, good enough for third in the Western Conference at the time of publication. It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Paul George since coming to Oklahoma City last season exchange for Victor Oladipo, and according to a recent feature at ESPN George asked his coach for one specific thing.

This may seem strange, but George reportedly wanted coach Billy Donovan to stop running plays for him.

Despite Donovan having watched hours of game film on George to see where he could get him the ball where he’s most successful, that kind of careful planning didn’t fit how George likes to attack the game.

Via ESPN:

“At times he’s like, ‘Stop — just let me get it,'” Donovan said. “I had to learn him. I can watch things on film and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good play and he made that shot, let’s run that,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

“I’ve always been a guy to just let the game come to me. Just play the game,” George said. “If it’s a shot for me, if I can make a play, create for someone else, I’ll do that. A lot of times you run a play, everybody’s watching, everybody’s locked in, everybody’s pulling over and it just makes the game tougher for me.

“I like it when I can kind of manipulate and be on attack mode where they don’t know what to do, as opposed to a play other teams [can] scout.”

Basketball is a team sport and it’s not just about the guys who are on the court. No doubt it was difficult for Donovan to give up some of the play-calling he specifically designed for George, but apparently it was the best thing for the team.

Report: Sixers want first rounder, have shot down multiple trades for Markelle Fultz

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What’s going on with Markelle Fultz? That’s the question everyone wants to know not only in the Philadelphia 76ers organization, but around the NBA.

The former No. 1 overall pick has struggled with his shot the last two seasons, and his recent diagnosis of the thoracic outlet syndrome isn’t the end of the story. Teams have reportedly been asking around about Fultz, and there have even been some denials about which teams are interested in the young guard.

This week Candace Buckner published an excellent profile of Fultz and some potential issues caused for him by an over-domineering inner circle. That profile also had sourced information from Buckner saying that the Sixers continue to field trade calls from interested parties for Fultz.

Via Washington Post:

While the Sixers pledge to support their player in his recovery process and are believed to have a relationship with Brothers and Fultz’s inner circle, the organization has been protective in its own way. According to people in the league, the Sixers have rejected multiple trade offers for Fultz. It’s not just that Philadelphia remains hopeful of getting Fultz on track to be a star in Philadelphia — much like prior top picks Ben Simmons and Embiid, who both missed their rookie seasons because of injuries. The Sixers have not received trade offers with what they believe to be equal value, a telling sign that indicates how other teams in the league view Fultz and the rocky start to his career.

If you are a fan looking in from the outside, this tells you two things. First, that no matter how much a player appears to be damaged goods, NBA GMs will do their due diligence and make a call to see if they can nab a player on the cheap.

Second, it lets you know that Fultz’s value right now is only at that “first call” level. Fultz showed a lot of promise during one season with the University of Washington, and that’s enough for Philadelphia to hold out on trading him for spare parts at this juncture. When we start getting word of teams sending actual, meaningful offers, that might give us a sort of triangulated idea of his stock around the league (and perhaps his recovery).

The Sixers’ asking price, for the moment, remains high. According to Philly.com’s Keith Pompey, 76ers brass are looking for a first round pick as part of the exchange in any Fultz deal. What that translates to is, Philadelphia isn’t ready to deal just yet.

Via Philly.com:

The ownership group also isn’t in total agreement with what do with Fultz, according to league sources.

A league source said the Sixers don’t want to part ways with Fultz unless a first-round pick is packaged in a deal for him. And they’re not talking about a late first-rounder, either.

League executives believe the Sixers will settle for less as it gets closer to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, because there really isn’t a trade market for Fultz right now. There’s too much skepticism surrounding his shooting woes and his shoulder issues.

Fultz is due $9.7 million next season but then has a player option for 2020-21 of $12.2 million. Since the Sixers still have time, we might be hanging around for a while to see Fultz in any other jersey outside of Philly.

What was Klay Thompson trying to say during this interview?

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In-game interviews are both an interesting layer of texture that adds depth to a TV broadcast and perhaps a distracting commitment for those playing or coaching in an NBA game.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when things like this happen.

As the Golden State Warriors took on the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Klay Thompson was pulled aside for an in-game interview with our friends over at NBC Sports Bay Area. Thompson was asked a question by Kerith Burke about ball movement leading to 3-pointers. Thompson was apparently in need of some sports drink because his answer was a little loopy.

Here’s what Thompson said in response to Burke:

“It’s great on both si— uh. It’s great, both of them are great. And we’re getting out and pushing them on the pace. That’s when we’re at our best.”

I’m not sure what I can parse from that. Maybe you can do better?

Thompson had 27 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the win over the Kings, 130-125.