Pacers make their case in win over Celtics, but it’s ugly

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This is the kind of game you end up with if you play a condensed season after a drastically shortened training camp.

Which is to say — UGLY.

But if you can look at it for a second you see one thing: These Pacers are legitimate.

Maybe not Miami and Chicago legitimate, but to be considered among the best of the rest of the East at least. After a first half you had to turn your eyes away from like Medusa, the Pacers rallied for a 87-74 victory over the Boston Celtics to move to 5-2 on the season. Boston fell to 4-4. If you watched this game then those records seem about right. And by the way, we’re sorry you sat through it.

The first 24 minutes was just flat out ugly basketball. The game was tied at 14-14 after one — the Pacers missed their last 14 shots of the first quarter and were still tied for the lead. Indiana “pulled away” with 19 points in the second quarter to lead 33-25 at the break. The Pacers shot a sad 33.3 percent for the half, but that was better than the 26.5 for Boston.

The third quarter saw each side score 30 points. Rajon Rondo was aggressive for Boston but Ray Allen was the only guy who could have hit water falling out of a boat tonight (to borrow a Chick Hearn line) — he was 7-of-11 shooting. Paul Pierce was 3-of-17, Rondo 5-of-12 and the Celtics as a team shot 39.4 percent for the game.

Indiana was not good, just less bad. Danny Granger was 3-of-14, but Paul George was 5-of-7 and off the bench George Hill was 5-of-10 while Tyler Hansbrough was 4-of-7. Indiana was also 8-of-14 from three for the night.

Normally we’d caution reading much into this, but Indiana is a team that has shown balance on offense and good overall defense so far this season, and tonight those things were enough to get them the win.

Indiana is not a title contender, but with the addition of David West they are in the next tier in the East. Which is where Boston is on a good day. This was not a good day for Boston and Celtics fans hope not to see it repeated.

This game did show the Pacers are for real. They can impress on their good day and still win their ugly days.

Now, let’s forget about this game and dream of beautiful basketball, wherever it is played.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.