Game of the night: The running of the Celtics

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Boston is supposed to be the old men. Miami is supposed to be the young bucks unstoppable in transition.

Then why is it that that all night long Boston was the team pushing the ball in transition, getting some easy buckets on the run? Miami was slowed, hesitant. It speaks to where these teams are in the maturation process, how big the gap is between them.

That running helped Boston built a double-digit early lead in this one, they got that all the way up to 20 then held on at the end to get the win, 112-107.

What we saw opening night was confirmed Thursday — right now Boston is the better team. This wasn’t Miami not being used to each other, this was Boston executing their game plan, believing in the system in a way Miami does not yet. The Celtics have much stronger defensive principles, but what matters more is they stick to them. Boston knows who it is and what it wants to do. The Celtics execute when Miami could not or would not.

The Celtics put up 61 first half points shooting a fantastic 67 percent eFG% (field goal percentage that includes a bump for hitting threes), in part because of the easy buckets they got in transition. Also in part because they had fantastic ball movement. Ray Allen benefited from that, plus he was just hot and finished the game with 35 points having hit 7 of 9 from three. Meanwhile Miami was shooting 44 percent eFG% for the first half. Boston literally ran their lead up to 20 in the third quarter.

Miami’s talent is not going to allow any win over them to be easy. The Heat cut it to 10 at the end of the third. They got it down to seven a couple times late and had open looks at threes to make it four points. At one point near they end they got it down to three.

Miami made that surge in part because LeBron James had a Cleveland game — he dominated the ball out top, ran a lot of pick-and-rolls and got his points the hard way. That system works pretty well, it got Cleveland a lot wins. It just never got them where they wanted to go.

LeBron had to take over in part because Dwyane Wade was ice cold, 2 of 12 for the contest. Several times he dribbled into pressure along the sideline, then made poor passes out of it. Just not his night.

Chris Bosh was solid on offense, 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting. After the game Erik Spoelstra said it was the most aggressive bosh had played.

It was on defense where Bosh struggled. He was pushed around, did not grab boards, and seemed a passive spectator. The Celtics went right at him on defense, and he did not respond. His slow rotation on the spectacular Rajon Rondo dunk was just the most glaring example of a bad defensive half. I have stuck up for Bosh not playing well this season in the past, tonight I stop that.

Udonis Haslem tried. You can tell he realizes how far the Heat have to go to be a team in the way Boston is. To beat a team like that. So he pushes and has maybe his best game of the season — 21 points on 9 of 10 shooting, plus 10 rebounds.

But the Heat have a ways to go. They let Boston dictate the terms of this game. Right now, the Celtics are the defending champions who look good and Miami is a 5-4 team struggling to find out exactly who they are. They have a season to do that, if Miami fans can be patient. But the road is a long one.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.