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Trae Young shows why rebuilding Hawks could be fun to watch

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ATLANTA (AP) — Trae Young just might make the Atlanta Hawks fun to watch this season.

The rookie point guard flashed some dazzling ball-handling skills in his preseason debut, keeping his teammates and fans involved in the action while he is on the floor.

Atlanta is not expected to win many games this season, but Young will likely win over his teammates and more than a few fans.

“His greatest skill is he can facilitate and he can find guys,” first-year coach Lloyd Pierce said. “When you have a player with the ability to do that, to find guys in creative ways, he’s fun to play with.”

In his preseason debut Monday night, Young provided a glimpse of what Hawks fans can expect this year.

Some good:

On one play he bounced a pass off the backboard and later wrapped on around a defender on the baseline to assist on uncontested dunks.

Some not so good: It was far from a perfect night as Young missed 10 of his first 11 attempts from the field.

But he seemed to get a pass on his shooting – for now.

The seamless way he involved power forward John Collins, shooting guard Kent Bazemore and small forward Taurean Prince caused a loud stir from the small crowd at Georgia Tech.

At least for one preseason game, he validated why the Hawks traded down two spots on draft night to acquire the freshman out of Oklahoma with the No. 5 overall pick.

The 20-year-old had six assists before he committed a turnover, the best moment coming in the second quarter when he ran a pick-and-roll with Collins at the top of the key. Young drove around Julius Randle and drew Davis his way before bouncing an alley-oop pass off the backboard that Collins grabbed for a hard dunk.

“We’ve been doing that in practice and in drills and stuff,” Young said. “We were waiting for the moment when we could do it in a game. Lucky it happened in the first preseason game, which was pretty cool.”

With the Hawks playing another four exhibitions before opening the season Oct. 17 in New York, Pierce will continue to install his offense, a scheme that’s predicated on pushing the ball quickly up the floor before the defense gets set.

“We’re measuring everything with our first three steps,” Pierce said. “How quickly can we react to turnovers, makes and misses? When we have to play in the half-court, it’s body and ball movement. We’re looking for the most efficient shots, and that’s created. Our separation will be our bodies moving.”

Young brushed off his difficulty shooting. He had a similarly rough start in the NBA summer league before settling down.

As long as he’s handing out assists, Young believes his shots will start to fall. He finally got going against New Orleans’ reserves in the third quarter, hitting consecutive shots off Alex Len‘s block and Collins’ steal to give Atlanta the lead for good.

He finished with eight assists and two turnovers and scored 11 points on 5 for 16 shooting.

“My teammates did a great job of making plays, setting good screens, knocking down shots,” Young said. “John had a heck of a game. (Prince) had some insane moments, and Baze. Everybody had a good game today. It makes my job look a lot easier.”

Vince Carter, a 20th-year veteran and eight-time All-Star, continues to offer encouragement.

“He hesitated on a shot that just six months ago he would’ve let that fly whether he was 1 for 11 or 11 for 11, and I was just trying to tell him,” Carter said. “The mentality doesn’t change. He’s a point guard that can score and he can make plays for other people. Be the Trae Young that they drafted.”

Ben Simmons leaves game in first quarter, to have MRI on lower back Sunday

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Philadelphia, routed by Milwaukee on Saturday night and still starting on the road if the playoffs began today, may have another problem coming.

All-Star Ben Simmons skipped Thursday night’s game against Brooklyn with a sore lower back. He gave it a go Saturday in a nationally televised game against Milwaukee, but in the first quarter went back to the locker room not to return.

After the game, the news got more ominous.

Wojnarowski also reported, “There is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury.” That sounds ominous.

Simmons is averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.9 rebounds a game for the Sixers this season as the starting point guard. He’s also been playing All-Defensive Team level defense. If he misses extended time, it will be rough on Philadelphia.

When there is word on the MRI results, we will have it here at NBC.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Watch Dwyane Wade have his number retired by Heat

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Dwyane Wade is the greatest Miami Heat player ever.

He was at the heart of every championship the Heat won, he was active and beloved in the community, he was the face of the franchise.

Now his legacy is forever part of the American Airlines Arena — the Heat have retired his number.

Wade is a three-time champion, and 8-time All-NBA player, a 13-time All-Star, and a Finals MVP who averaged 22 points a game over his 16 year NBA career.

Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.