Three Things to Know: Celtics win streak at 10, should we call them contenders?

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Celtics make it 10 wins in a row… is what Boston is doing sustainable? Are they contenders? Wednesday, Boston coach Brad Stevens finally unleashed his ultimate offensive weapon — Aron Baynes. For the first 11 games of the season Stevens been using some misdirection, putting the ball in the hands of Kyrie Irving, and having him do dribble handoffs with Al Horford. But that was just the hors-d’oeuvre, Baynes is the meal. Wednesday night against the Lakers Stevens finally unleashed the fury that is Baynes.

Okay, maybe that is overstating it. Slightly. But Baynes had 21 points on 12 shots starting in place of Horford — who is in the league’s concussion protocol — as he overwhelmed the Lakers inside on Boston’s way to a fairly comfortable 107-96 win over rival Los Angeles.

That’s 10 wins in a row for Boston, and it lead’s to the question: Just how sustainable is this? We knew Boston would be good this season, but are they contenders right now, even without Gordon Hayward?

Yes, they are.

Making the Finals is a good definition of a contender and this season that is not some far-off dream in Boston, it’s reasonable.

Boston moves up to contender status because of their defense — the best in the NBA this young season. Just ask Lonzo Ball, who was rudely introduced to Marcus Smart Wednesday.

No, this Boston run is not sustainable in the “they are going 80-2 this season” kind of way — they have won 10 in a row against the 10th softest schedule in the league so far. Think of who they have beaten and there are a lot of rebuilding teams (Knicks, Kings, Sixers, Lakers, Hawks) and even when they get the Spurs they get them without Kawhi Leonard. There will be rough patches ahead. The Celtics have had role players playing over their heads a little  (see Baynes dropping 21), and while the young tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum keep playing incredibly well, they will have peaks and valleys as well.

However, Boston is a real and legitimate threat to come out of the East. Kyrie Irving has bought into what Stevens preaches on offense, and more importantly has hustled more on defense than we have seen in years (he doesn’t die on nearly as many screens as he did in Cleveland). Horford and Irving have developed a fast on-court chemistry, and their two-man dribble handoff game is hard to stop. Role players like Smart and Marcus Morris can sustain what they are doing, and Stevens puts guys in great positions to succeed.

The shadow of LeBron James still looms over the East. While the Cavaliers have struggled early — and there are legitimate questions about how good their defense can be — LeBron has been to seven straight NBA Finals for a reason. He has other gears has not even thought about reaching yet (well, except when Bradley Beal and John Wall decided to piss him off before a game). Getting through the Cavaliers to the Finals will be a huge mountain to climb — you are going to have to knock out the champ, he’s not just handing over the belt.

However, that is a question for May. Right now the Celtics have won 10 in a row, they thumped their rival Lakers, and the Celtics are going to keep Bostonians warm through a long winter. This team is for real.

2) Detroit remains the team pushing Boston… is that sustainable? The Detroit Pistons are 8-3, and Andre Drummond is shooting 68.3 percent from the free throw line. Those two facts are a bigger surprise than what is happening in Bean Town, and after the Pistons handled the Pacers on Wednesday, it’s time to ask:

Is Detroit for real? Is this sustainable?

Define for real. The Pistons are currently on a 60-win pace, and that’s not happening. They are not a threat to Boston now or Cleveland whenever that team decides to wake up.

However, are the Pistons a playoff team? Absolutely. One that can make the second round? Let’s see what the matchups are and how teams are playing in April, but it’s not out of the question.

The Pistons are ninth in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating to start the season, and while being top 10 in both may not hold up (the defense may falter, teams are shooting fairly well against them and getting to the line at a good clip; and the offense still takes more long mid-rangers than I like) this is a team we thought would take a step forward last season but never got on track thanks to the Reggie Jackson injury, which threw everything off. Now, they are back on that trajectory, and Avery Bradley has been a better version of KCP so far to help that cause. They get some easy buckets in transition now, and they have guys who can shoot the rock.

Detroit has been one of the bigger surprises of the young season, but this is no fluke. Andre Drummond is for real (and not just at the charity stripe), and so is Detroit in its new downtown building. Stan Van Gundy has things back on track in the motor city.

3) Kevin Durant sits, Warriors don’t even break stride. Just a reminder: The Golden State Warriors won an NBA title and then had a 73-win season BEFORE Kevin Durant arrived. As Jeff Van Gundy said after the game, take Durant off this team — as a thigh contusion did Wednesday — and they are still the title favorites.

Minnesota came into Oracle Arena on a five-game win streak and as the poster child for “team on the rise,” then for two and a half quarters the upstarts hung around with the champs. Then, sparked by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (with some help off the bench from Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee) the Warriors went on an 18-4 run, pulled away, never looked back and went on to win 125-101.

That’s just what the Warriors do. To everyone. So enjoy highlights of Curry and Thompson going off and know that with the thematic question of the day on this post — is this team for real? — we were never asking it about Golden State.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.