Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Spurs now 34-0 at home after beating Trail Blazers

Associated Press
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You weren’t watching NBA games Thursday, admit it. You were watching Providence beat USC, Yale beat Baylor, and your bracket go up in flames. Here’s what you need to know from a Thursday around the Association:

1) Spurs now 34-0 at home after beating Trail Blazers. Warriors up next.
Portland is a good team and a quality test for the Spurs at home — and nobody wanted to talk about that. Everyone was looking ahead to Saturday when the Spurs host the Warriors in a showdown of the two best teams in the NBA. Not that getting Golden State on the second night of a road back-to-back is exactly a fair test, but it’s only the second test we’ve gotten between those teams. (They play a late-season home-and-home, but by then both coaches will be resting players and not tipping their hands.)

Thursday was a potential trap game for the Spurs — they could have been looking ahead, while you know Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum would not be. Portland is no pushover. But Tony Parker wasn’t looking ahead either — he had 18 points, 16 assists and controlled the flow of the game. Parker has been up and down a bit, both this season and of late, and come the playoffs the Spurs are going to need a lot more of this Parker. The first half of this game was fairly close, but the Spurs opened the second half with a 10-0 run and never looked back.

Now Saturday can’t get here fast enough.

2) John Henson ejected after block on Matt Barnes, then Barnes chases him down the tunnel to the locker room.
Fines and suspensions are coming for this one. It started with Matt Barnes (who had 18 first quarter points) deciding not to dribble it out and going for a bucket in the final 10 seconds of a decided game. The Bucks’ John Henson — who had almost gotten into it with Lance Stephenson earlier — decided not to let that happen and rejected Barnes’ shot. Then Henson stared down/mean mugged Barnes, which earned Henson an ejection for taunting. One that was deserved. Not that Henson cared, he played it up to the crowd and threw his jersey into the stands as he was sent back to the locker room.

All this was too much for Barnes, who soon enough chased Henson down the tunnel, and according to reports went into the Bucks’ locker room looking for Henson. Security followed Barnes down the tunnel, and it’s unclear if there was another altercation. What is clear is Barnes is going to get a healthy suspension for this.

3) Raptors get big nights from Lowry, DeRozan, Biyombo and beat Pacers in OT. If the playoffs started today, this would be a first round matchup — Toronto vs. Indiana. It speaks to the depth and parity of the East (behind Cleveland, anyway) that this would be a close, fascinating series. It was for a game (although in a playoff series Toronto would have Jonas Valanciunas who was out, and likely DeMarre Carroll). Toronto went into Indiana and needed overtime, but they got the win 101-94. They did it for a few reasons. One is Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were a handful and combined for 56 points.

But also, with Valanciunas out Bismack Biyombo stepped up with 25 boards.



4) Kyle Lowry drops Myles Turner with just pure speed.

Also, from the Raptors win, the dagger bucket in overtime ended up being a lesson for a Pacers’ rookie. Turner is having a good season and showing a lot of potential as part of the Pacers’ future, but he is still adjusting to life in the NBA after a season at Texas. Kyle Lowry shows him that the speed of NBA players is unlike what he saw in college, and if you’re not balanced that speed will just knock you to the floor.


5) Hornets beat Heat, remain the hottest team in The East.
Atlanta, Boston, Miami, and Charlotte are all within half-a-game of each other for the three through six seeds in the East — and teams want that three seed to stay on the side of the bracket away from Cleveland for as long as they can. When any of those four teams square off, the game matters. Charlotte is 9-1 in its last 10 and quietly has been the hottest team in the East — and it showed on Thursday when they beat Miami 109-106 on the road. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson each had 21 points, while Nicolas Batum had nine of his 19 in the fourth quarter to help secure the win.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).