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Three Things to Know: Celtics thrash Cavaliers, but it’s not a statement game


LOS ANGELES — 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 easily handle Cavaliers at home… just don’t read too much into it. A team can have an impressive win in early January. Certainly a confidence-boosting one.

However, there are no statement games in early January. Certainly not against a team stacked with guys who have rings and have been to multiple Finals, who know the roller coaster of the NBA season. In the same way that Cleveland’s opening night win against Boston was no statement, neither was Boston’s easy handling of the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, 102-88.

Give Boston credit — they made plays. Terry Rozier had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting off the bench, and Marcus Smart was draining threes on his way to 15 points. Jayson Tatum added 15. Boston’s defense did well to hold the Cavaliers to less than a point per possession in the game, although that was aided by some poor shooting from the Cavs (8-of-32 from three, due to tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back).

The best part of this game was Celtics fans giving Isaiah Thomas a standing ovation upon his return (he did not play as the Cavaliers try to ease him back into the rotation).

This was a game where Cleveland felt vulnerable. Again. The Cavs looked formidable (and played good defense) when they won 18-of-19 at one point, but outside that stretch they have been 7-12 and played poor defense. It’s why teams — not just Boston, but also Toronto, Washington, Milwaukee — think these Cavaliers could be beaten. The warning is that Cleveland has had these mid-season slumps every year, and has gone on to win the East every year since LeBron returned. Still, the Cavaliers don’t have that same sense of inevitability, of invincibility, that they’ve had in seasons past.

That’s what will make the trade deadline interesting — will Washington or Milwaukee make a big play to get better and put themselves in the conversation? Will Toronto? Or, will Cleveland do something to solidify their spot at the top of the East and give them a better shot against Golden State (or whoever comes out of the West)? The next month or so until the NBA trade deadline is going to have a lot of twists and turns.

2) Steph gonna Steph: Curry drains game-winner. In his first game back from missing time with a sprained ankle, Stephen Curry dropped 10 threes (and 38 points). In his second game back from that sprained ankle, he had 32 points and did this:

Curry was playing at the level of garnering end-of-the-ballot MVP votes before his injury, and he has come back without missing a beat. Golden State was 27th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage in the 11 games Curry was out, not having him there messed with the team’s spacing and style, but with him back the Warriors look like themselves again.

Dallas had won four in a row before this loss and has played fantastically of late… but I still have to ask: Why was Dirk Nowitzki so far back on Curry’s game-winning pick-and-roll? This play was not some never-before-seen bit of wizardry, the Warriors run picks 35 feet from the basket all the time because Curry is such a shooting threat, but once Curry came off the Draymond Green screen Nowitzki was back near the top of the key and Curry got a perfectly clean look moving toward the basket.

Curry’s brilliance overshadowed a game-winner from Spencer Dinwiddie to lift the Nets past the Timberwolves.

3) Wednesday will be known as the Terrance Ferguson game. “It looked like an ocean. Like throwing a pebble in the ocean.”

That’s how rookie Terrance Ferguson — who five days before was down in the G-League so he could get a little run, then got the start Wednesday with Andre Roberson out — described his second half against the Lakers where he had 24 points. Ferguson was 2-of-16 from three all season entering this game, then was 6-of-8 from three in the second half Wednesday. He shot 9-of-11 overall in the half.

Oh, and he had these dunks.

“You’re in Staples Center, world-famous place. You’ve gotta do something amazing,” Ferguson said.

If you don’t remember Ferguson from college coming into the NBA, that’s because despite offers from Kansas, North Carolina, and Arizona (among others), he decided to get paid to play overseas in Australia. That’s not for everyone, but it worked for Ferguson — he played for a year against men, learned how to be a professional, and while he probably slid down the draft board because of it (the Thunder got him at No. 21) it helped prepare him for life in the NBA.

As much fun as Ferguson going off was to watch, his teammates — especially Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook — going wild on the bench during his run was almost as entertaining.

“There’s nothing like that,” Anthony said. “There’s no better feeling than that. Knowing how much hard work those guys put in, knowing how hard it is to get minutes in this league.”

George said he and Anthony may have been more excited than Ferguson at the end of the game. It was PG13 who paid the rookie the best compliment of the night.

“The kid is really good, and he reminds me of myself a lot early on in the league, just a sponge trying to take everything in,” George said. “He’s special. He’s a special weapon and a special talent.”


Lakers fan paints another LeBron mural in Los Angeles (PHOTO)

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There was already one LeBron James mural in Los Angeles. Several people decided to attack it with paint, ruining a nice gesture by a local artist in Venice and proving how annoying (presumed) Kobe Bryant fans can be.

Now, there is another mural in LA and this time it paid a little more attention to former Lakers legends. Hopefully this time around the subject matter will help stave off would-be vandals.

Via Twitter:

This LeBron piece was done by another Venice muralist, Gustavo Zermeño Jr., who posted photos of his work. In it, LeBron is seen looking up at Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No doubt that should satisfy some Lakers purists around the area, at least enough to keep them from throwing white paint all over it and ruining and impressive piece of artwork that took the artist a long time to create.

Lakers fan should just be happy that LeBron is in their state.

Clippers sign free agent Luc Mbah a Moute for second stint

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LOS ANGELES — Luc Mbah a Moute is back with the Los Angeles Clippers, signing a free-agent deal.

The 31-year-old forward averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.18 steals in 61 games for Houston last season.

Mbah a Moute played two seasons for the Clippers from 2015-17, averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 155 games, including 137 starts.

He was selected 37th overall by Milwaukee in 2008 after three seasons at UCLA. Besides the Clippers and Rockets, Mbah a Moute has played 10 seasons with Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Terms of the deal announced Thursday were not announced.

DeMarcus Cousins relishing fresh start in Golden State

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins spent his first eight seasons in the NBA chasing two things – peace and the playoffs.

After signing with Golden State as a free agent, the four-time All-Star center has no doubts he’ll finally find both, and that those will help dispel the notion that he’s a bad teammate.

“Just a chance to play for a winning culture,” Cousins said Thursday. “I also have a chance to play with some of the most talented players of this era. Those two things alone, that pretty much sums it up.”

Looking relaxed while sitting on a stage next to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Cousins was at ease during a news conference at the team’s practice facility.

Golden State’s fiery big man seems content in his new surroundings and wants the hardware to show for it.

“Every guy said let’s go get another championship,” Cousins said. “They are a well-established team and they could have easily been like, `No, we don’t need him.’ But they were excited like a team that’s never accomplished anything.”

While his signing in Golden State drew mostly groans from around the NBA, Cousins didn’t need much persuading to join the two-time defending champions. He has never played in the postseason, is coming off Achilles surgery in January and didn’t attract much attention in free agency until signing a $5.3 million, one-year contract with Golden State.

From the Warriors’ side, it’s a case of the rich getting richer. They’ve won the championship three of the past four seasons with an attack heavy on perimeter shooting and defense. In the 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound Cousins, they now have a dominant presence on the low block as well.

“It’s a different dimension,” Myers said. “It’s not something that we’ve ever had as far as a low-post threat since I’ve been here. I’m excited. I hope he’s excited.”

Cousins averaged 25.2 points and career highs in rebounds (12.9), assists (5.4) and minutes (36.2) with New Orleans before getting hurt. He has been frustrated by the tediousness of rehab but is being cautious in his approach.

“I’m progressing weekly, which is a positive,” Cousins said. “As far as a timetable . to be determined. I have to be smart about it. I’m in a unique situation as well where I’m not needed right away. Time is kind of on my side so I have a chance to get to 100 percent.

“Making it to the playoffs won’t be an issue for this team obviously. Once the basketball part comes, everything else will take care of itself.”

A throng of media attended the news conference, flanked by 150 young fans who were taking part in a basketball camp held by Warriors. Cousins answered questions from two of the youngsters who were eager to know who his favorite players were growing up.

The 27-year-old with a quick temper and a history of piling up technical fouls at a rapid rate showed a playful side when he joked about the possibility of fighting with new teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, two players with whom he’s had on-court issues in the past.

“Might as well,” Cousins said as the crowd laughed.

Cousins turned serious at one point when asked about reports that he had been offered a new contract by New Orleans before signing with Golden State.

“Only me and (Pelicans general manager) Dale Demps know what was said on the phone that night,” Cousins said. “We both know the truth and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for his new team, Cousins has assimilated quickly. He played with several members of the Warriors while winning a gold medal as part of Team USA during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Me and Draymond clicked right away,” Cousins said. “We’re two goofballs that like to joke around a lot. Same with KD and same thing with Steph (Curry). It’s a great group. I think we’ll mesh well.”

Until he is medically cleared to play, Cousins will continue to rehab and learn coach Steve Kerr’s system. He’ll also reach out to the Oakland community, something he made a quiet habit of while in Sacramento playing for the Kings.

“I get out in the `hoods,” Cousins said. “I want to go to the worst, the grimiest places. That’s where I want to be. Those are usually the kids or the communities that kind of get left behind or forgotten about. I feel like I was in that situation at one point. That’s where my mindset is and that’s what I stand for.”


Trade, buyout clears way for Carmelo Anthony to join Rockets

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There were a few things that were a given back on July 1 heading into free agency: Kevin Durant would re-sign with the Warriors, Chris Paul was going to stay in Houston, the Washington Wizards would find a way to make their bad locker room chemistry worse

And Carmelo Anthony would end up in Houston.

Every source I have talked to through free agency and at Summer Leagues saw ‘Melo as a Rocket as all but inevitable. Anthony’s people have not exactly been subtle about their efforts.

Thursday’s three-team trade that sends Anthony to Atlanta — where he will be bought out at full price, no discount — clears the way for him to become a Rocket. After Anthony clears waivers, the deal will get done.

Is that a good move for the Rockets is another question.

Anthony and coach Mike D’Antoni had their problems in New York. Both say they are past those now, but when issues flare up again, will the history? And issues will flare up.

With James Harden and CP3, the Rockets offense is built on efficiency — there may be a lot of isolations, but they get threes and shots at the rim with a team of guys willing to move the ball for a better shot. That’s not Anthony. He can still get buckets, and he shot 35.7 percent from three last season, but Anthony is not a guy who moves the ball or is efficient anymore (40.4 percent shooting overall last season). He relies heavily on post up and isolations ( 32.5 percent of Anthony’s possessions last season), and he’s still reasonably efficient on those. But he’s a ball stopper, something Harden and Paul are not for all their isolation plays.

Defensively he is nowhere near Phoenix-bound Trevor Ariza or Clippers-bound Luc Mbah-a-Moute. Anthony will get targeted on switches and played off the floor at the end of games and in the playoffs. James Ennis is a better option for the Rockets in many lineups.

If Anthony can accept a sixth man role, he could really help the Rockets. However, after the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs last year, Anthony was asked about doing that for OKC and literally laughed the question off. Maybe playing with Harden and CP3 on a contender changes things, but I will see it when I believe it.

Anthony is going to be a Rocket next season. How well that works is something to watch.