Associated Press

Aldridge has 24 points, Spurs beat Rockets 121-103

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Kawhi Leonard added 22 and the San Antonio Spurs made a season-high 13 3-pointers, avenging an earlier loss to the Houston Rockets with a 121-103 victory on Saturday night.

San Antonio extended its franchise record home start with its 20th straight victory, but this was among its toughest despite the lopsided score.

Dwight Howard had 22 points, including 10 for 17 on free throws, and 11 rebounds. James Harden had 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting for Houston (16-19).

The Rockets’ 88-84 victory on Christmas Day is the Spurs’ only loss in their past 12 games. San Antonio has won four straight since that game while Houston is winless.

The Rockets bullied the Spurs early by pushing them out of their sets and keeping them from cutting to the basket.

Patrick Beverly dug an elbow and shoulder into Tony Parker in the first half while awaiting an inbounds pass, prompting Parker to give him a two-handed shove that did not yield a call.

San Antonio was able to counter that aggression at different points with long-range shooting, quick passing and Aldridge’s own hard-nosed play.

Spurs guard Danny Green said his New Year’s resolution was “to make more shots,” and he fulfilled that promise early. Green opened the game 4 for 5 on 3-pointers, including his first 3, and finished with 18 points on a season-high six 3-pointers.

Aldridge assisted with his most forceful game since signing with the Spurs in the offseason. He was 10 for 16 from the field, including spinning away from Terrence Jones and hitting a fadeaway jumper after absorbing a couple of hard bumps.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Rockets guard Marcus Thornton missed the game following the birth of his daughter, Maleia, with fiancee Lyndsey Duplessis on Friday. Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff was unsure if Thornton would be available for Monday’s game in Utah. … As a 13-year-old, Bickerstaff attended a Spurs camp conducted by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford in Aspen, Colo. David Robinson and Sean Elliott were among those assisting at the camp.

Spurs: Tim Duncan had no points, four rebounds, and two assists in 13 minutes in his return from a three-game absence. Duncan had not played since San Antonio last faced Houston. He missed the ensuing game for rest, but missed the following two due to right knee soreness. … San Antonio tied Houston for the second-best home start to the season in the Western Conference. The 1978 Portland Trail Blazers hold the conference record with 26 straight home victories to open the season. … San Antonio’s previous high for 3-pointers was 10, which they had in four previous games, most recently against Minnesota on Dec. 23.

 

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.

Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead peaceful protest

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While many NBA players have spoken out on social media and attended rallies in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police, maybe none has been as vocal and active as the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown.

Saturday, he drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest at the Martin Luther King National Historic Park.

Brown was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Brown’s protest still had a run-in with Atlanta police.

This protest is one of many nationwide happening for a fifth straight night in the wake of the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. That death happened not long after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Brown, like many nationwide, hope these protests and this frustration can be channeled into real change. Something this nation needs.