PBT’s Sunday NBA Winners/Losers: Luol Deng loving life in Miami

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while spending your hard-earned money on Derek Jeter dirt

source:  Luol Deng. He’s fitting in very well in Miami, thank you very much. The Heat went into American Airlines Arena — the one in Dallas, not the one in Miami — and beat the Mavs behind a big game from Deng: 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting, five rebounds and four assists. On the season he’s averaging 15.6 points a game on 55.7 percent shooting. The Heat are 5-2 and look like a team with real cohesion and chemistry led by Chris Bosh, getting solid play from Dwyane Wade nightly and playing the space and pace system well.

source:  Los Angeles Lakers. They got one. And they played better defense to get it (well, that and Charlotte’s lack of shooting was exposed as they were 3-of-14 from three). Kobe Bryant did what he does and had 21 points on 20 shots, but the Lakers got an offensive boost from Jeremy Lin who had 21 points on 12 shots, hitting 3-of-6 from three.The Lakers got really hot in the second half, hitting 64.1 percent of their shots overall — Carlos Boozer was 5-of-6, Ed Davis 3-of-3 and even Robert Sacre made both his shots. Good win for the Lakers, who needed this one because the schedule gets really tough for the next couple weeks and there are not a lot of obvious wins on the horizon. After the game there were a lot of “Charles Barkley can eat” jokes on twitter (he joked about going on a hunger strike until the Lakers won), and Ed Davis got in on the action.

source:  Charlotte Hornets. It’s not just the loss to the Lakers, it’s the lack of offense highlighted in that loss and the rest of the season that is an issue. The Hornets were counting on continuity plus adding Lance Stephenson to boost what was a dismal offense last season, but so far this young season the Hornets offense is 4.3 points per 100 possessions worse than last season. They desperately need outside shooting, hitting just 29 percent from three as a team. They also are heavy on the midrange shots (fourth most in the NBA) and are shooting just 39 percent on those. All of that has the Hornets just 3-4 this young season. There’s plenty of time to turn it around, but this is a disappointing start for a team expected to take a step forward this season.

source:  Toronto Raptors. It’s not the win over the Sixers Sunday, it’s that the Raptors are off to a fast 6-1 start and are on top of the Eastern Conference. Part of that winning is the top 10 defense they have been playing this season. But more impressive is the top five offense led by DeMar DeRozan, at 22.7 a game. Plus DeRozan is doing this.

source:  Denver Nuggets. Coming into the season they were a team a lot people thought could get it together and compete for a playoff spot in the West, but after their loss to the Trail Blazers they are 1-5 to start the season, tied with the Lakers for the bottom of the West. I spoke to Kenneth Faried last week and he said the slow start was just so many guys coming back from injury and missing time in camp, they are just not all on the same page yet on either end of the floor (they are ranked 22nd in both offense and defense using points per possession). He also said the team understands that in the West they have to get it together sooner rather than later.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.

Rumor: Warriors acquired first-rounder, Andrew Wiggins for Giannis Antetokounmpo trade

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Andrew Wiggins, who's now with Warriors
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The Warriors have the NBA shook.

Even in last place.

It was more understandablenot necessarily right, but understandable – when Golden State was dominating. The Warriors won a title, won 73 games, signed Kevin Durant then won two more titles. In the midst of the run, they were treated as invincible. A team that great had never signed an outside free agent that great. Golden State really did seem “light years ahead.”

So, when the Warriors traded D'Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins and picks, some people cowered about what Golden State had up its sleeve next. Speculation even turned to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who faces a super-max decision this offseason and looked quite chummy with Stephen Curry (similar to how Kevin Durant once did while still with the Thunder).

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

Some around the league believe the Golden State Warriors acquired a first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Andrew Wiggins, with the notion of a potential future trade with the Bucks.

This is so silly.

Minnesota’s first-rounder (top-three-protected in 2021, unprotected in 2022) is a nice asset. The Warriors’ 2020 first-rounder will also land high in the draft. But Wiggins didn’t suddenly turn into a valuable player in Golden State. Owed $94,738,170 over the next three years, Wiggins still carries negative value. The Warriors aren’t now deftly positioned to land Antetokounmpo.

Golden State showed incredible vision by building an excellent team that appealed to Durant and clearing cap space to acquire him. But the Warriors got multiple fortunate breaks – Stephen Curry taking a smaller contract extension while injured in 2012, Golden State blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, the salary cap spiking in 2016.

The Warriors can’t duplicate everything, swoop in and land Antetokounmpo.

Sure, it’s possible Wiggins improves in Golden State. Maybe Antetokounmpo will decline to sign a super-max extension, which should force Milwaukee to at least strongly consider trading him. It’s also conceivable Antetokounmpo threatens not to re-sign with anyone besides the Warriors, scaring off other teams and leaving Golden State’s offer the best that the Bucks’ get.

But it’s such a remote possibility of all that happening, it’s not worth worrying about.

This is paranoia about the Warriors at its worst.