“I think I’m ready:” Ben Simmons hopes to be NBA draft top pick

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NEW YORK (AP) β€” Ben Simmons has the sneaker deal and the TV show, so off the court he already has the look of a star.

The only questions seem to be about what he can do on the floor.

Assuming the Philadelphia 76ers are satisfied, they will make Simmons the No. 1 pick Thursday night in the NBA draft.

He has been considered the choice for months, and there are plenty of reasons why. The 6-foot-10 forward’s versatility is perfect for the modern NBA, and he has been getting advice about how to make himself even better from his favorite player, a certain champion named LeBron James.

Yet after an up-and-down season at LSU, Simmons arrived in New York on Wednesday with more scrutiny than usual for a player whose named is expected to be called first by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

“It was a roller coaster but I think everything that I went through has helped mold me into the player that I am now,” Simmons said. “But I think I’m ready.”

He averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, the only SEC player ever to finish in the top five in all three categories. But the Tigers were only 19-14, failing to make the NCAA Tournament, and with all his talent Simmons sometimes left the impressive that he could’ve – made should’ve – done more to lead his team.

“That’s always going to happen when you’re one of the best guys. They try to bring you down, but honestly it was a rough season,” Simmons said. “We had guys that were hurt, were out, but it wasn’t the perfect season that we wanted.”

If critics want to put the blame on Simmons, LSU coach Johnny Jones thinks they’re looking in the wrong place.

“People have spent a lot of time this past season trying to break his game down in a negative way, taking a lot of unnecessary shots at him,” Jones said. “And I’m glad at the end of the day, his performance at LSU, his growth there, the decisions he made as he continued to grow as a basketball player, has put him in a situation where he’s going to be the No. 1 player taken in the draft.”

Simmons insists he doesn’t actually know if he will go first, but Madison Ave. seems convinced. Simmons has already inked a sneaker deal with Nike and will be the feature of a Showtime documentary film called “ONE & DONE” that will debut in October, just before Simmons debuts in the NBA.

That could be in the uniform of the 76ers, who went 10-72 in their third straight dismal season. Simmons didn’t work out for Philadelphia until Tuesday but there was familiarity with him long ago, as 76ers coach Brett Brown coached Simmons’ father in Australia. Simmons said Brown told him that someday he might play in the NBA.

And Simmons said he would be happy doing it for Brown, even though his delay in meeting with the 76ers created speculation that he hoped to scare Philadelphia from taking him so he would fall to second and get to play in Los Angeles for the Lakers. But Simmons said that was never true.

“Definitely not, just because I want to be the best player,” he said. “There’s only one No. 1 pick of the year.”

Duke’s Brandon Ingram is the other player mentioned for that spot and also worked out for the 76ers. But even with whatever questions there are about Simmons’ skills – he took only three 3-pointers, making one – he grades higher in the eyes of many talent evaluators.

“He’s incredibly productive. They just don’t make guys like that very often that have that kind of size and skill level,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “He’s not perfect, he doesn’t shoot it the way you would hope he would. In every other area he’s the best in the draft.”

That’s how Simmons feels, and he believes he’s already getting better. He’s put on 20 pounds over the last three months, moving him into the low 240s and making him more ready to bang with NBA forwards.

When the jumper gets better and eventually so do the 76ers, there won’t be any questions left to ask.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for honestly,” Simmons said. “I’m willing to work hard and put in the time.”

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason β€” he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one,Β “I missed that on purpose.”Β 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. β€” he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle β€” providing more quality wing play and good decision making β€” and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart β€” an All-Defensive Team player β€” had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that β€” and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late β€” to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year β€” 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.