Celtics show they’re class of East in season-opening win vs. 76ers

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Opening night in the NBA arrived on Tuesday, with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers perhaps previewing a future Eastern Conference playoffs matchup.

It did not disappoint.

Play started out relatively even, although the contrasting styles of each team was immediately apparent. The Sixers, a bit rattled by Boston’s defense, struggled from 3-point range. Philly made up for that inequity by quickening their pace, attacking the rim and grabbing 12 points in transition in the first half alone.

What the 76ers were unable to counter was just how well Boston game-planned for their non-shooters. Markelle Fultz was not fully confident in his jumper. Ben Simmons shied away from any open opportunities, and didn’t make a basket farther than nine feet. It’s certainly not a death knell for the Sixers, but it will once again be something to watch this year.

For their part, Philadelphia’s defense did what it was designed to do against the Celtics in the first half. Boston grabbed 16 points from mid-range, and while they shot a healthy percentage, that was certainly not where coach Brad Stevens wanted his offense to operate.

As the third quarter opened, it was the Celtics who began to pull away thanks to help from its bench. Marcus Morris dropped 16 points, much of it in the third and fourth quarters. Terry Rozier added 11 points, along with eight rebounds and an assist.

Boston opened the half with a 30-point third quarter, followed by allowing the 76ers just 21 points in the fourth. The best defense in the league from a year ago, the Celtics put the clamps on a Sixers offense that just didn’t seem to have enough counterpunches ready for Stevens’ plan.

Simmons finished with an impressive stat line of 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks. For Boston, Jayson Tatum led the way with 23 points, nine rebounds, and three assists.

The Celtics took home the very first win of the season, 105-87, over Philadelphia.

Meanwhile for Boston, the stories that most have been waiting to read are those of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, both returning from injury. The two are Boston’s biggest stars, and have been stuck in the training room as the team around them rallied to become a playoff favorite.

To that end, neither performed particularly well on Tuesday.

Irving and Hayward shot a combined a 6-of-26 from the floor, adding single-digit rebounds. Hayward didn’t record an assist, and the Celtics were instead led by Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris.

Even with the middling performance of their most prominent stars, the Celtics showed us two things on Tuesday night. First, Boston’s defense is still for real. The team with the best defensive rating last season held the Sixers to just 19 percent shooting from 3-point line, and Stevens’ defensive strategy against the likes of Simmons, Fultz, and Embiid was impressive. Simmons and Embiid personally thrived in the box score, but their teammates weren’t able to benefit off of them thanks to Boston’s rotational prowess.

And while it’s just one game into this young season, the Celtics also showed that there is a clear delineation between them and Philadelphia at this juncture. Many believe the Celtics to be a Finals-ready team, and that the Sixers have more growing to do. Philadelphia clearly has some significant roster weaknesses — particularly around shooting — but the sheer depth in Boston is what separates them from their competition.

We will have to watch what happens with Irving and Hayward, and whether they can get stronger as time goes on. Hayward mentioned that he still feels a little odd jumping off of the leg he injured during the first game of last year. But if he both he and Irving come on as the regular season months roll along, they will certainly be additive to what is the best roster in the East.

Former Wizard Jared Dudley: “I’m seeing a team that has been together too long”

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The Washington Wizards are a mess to start the season. They are 5-10, have the second-worst defense in the NBA, the 20th ranked offense, and get outscored by an average of 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Which is to say, that record is a pretty accurate reflection of who they are right now, but it doesn’t do justice to how bad the locker room chemistry is.

Add former Wizard Jared Dudley to the chorus of voices saying it’s time for a change. After Dudley’s Nets beat the Wizards, Dudley said this to Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

“I’m seeing a team that has been together too long,” Dudley told NBC Sports Washington…. “They haven’t made progress, so it’s time to change things over there.”

“I think (they have) good players, but sometimes, good players need different situations. For them, I think that it’s tough the way the league is changing. They play two bigs,” Dudley said about the combination of power forward Markieff Morris and center Dwight Howard. “In this day in age, Otto [Porter] needs to play more four because he’s tall enough, more spacing.”

“I think they’ve had enough time, but they really haven’t (broken) through,” Dudley said. “I can see by the All-Star break or summer time one of these pieces moving. It’s going to be good for them. If it’s John, or Otto or Brad, one of them three, I think their next move is going to be good for both teams.”

A lot of people agree with Dudley, the Wizards should trade one of their big three. However, actually doing that would be challenging (and that’s assuming GM Ernie Grunfeld wants to make a trade).

Washington reportedly has teams calling about Bradley BealMinnesota was on that list when they were shopping Jimmy Butler — but the Wizards know he’s their best player and are not interested in moving him.

What the Wizards would prefer to do is move John Wall or Otto Porter. Good luck with that. Wall is nearly impossible to trade because his designated veteran max extension kicks in NEXT season, meaning after this season he has four more years at an average of $42 million a season on his deal. Just to make it even more difficult, if Wall is traded at the deadline there is a 15 percent trade kicker (which would lead to a big bonus this season and a little more money down the line.

Otto Porter has two years left on his contract after this one at $27.3 million and $28.5 million (the second year is a player option, but he will pick it up). This season Porter has been a pretty average player — 10.4 points a game, shoots 35 percent from three, PER of 13.8 (slightly below the league average) — on a max contract. That’s the kinds of deals teams do not want to take on, the Wizards would need to throw a lot of sweeteners to even get another team to consider a trade.

Washington, once again, came into the season talking big — Eastern Conference Finals — and with a confidence not warranted by past results. Reality has shown them something different. Dudley is right, it’s time for a change, it was last summer (if not before that), but actually doing something may prove to be too much until next July.

It was an ugly end of the game by Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Warriors

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With 1:10 left in the game Saturday night, the Golden State Warriors were down just one point, 109-108, to the Dallas Mavericks following a Luka Doncic floater. Warriors fans — and the Warriors themselves — had to feel confident, this is the kind of game they close out and win. The Warriors have done it for years. Sure Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were out, but is where the Warriors other big stars hit big shots.

Not on Saturday night:

Kevin Durant missed a running hook shot from 7 feet.

• Durant missed an 11-foot fadeaway jumper.

Klay Thompson missed a clean-look 16-foot baseline jumper.

• Down 3 with :04 seconds left, Durant intentionally misses a free throw, Jonas Jerebko gets the offensive rebound, then goes up with an 11-foot two-pointer that does the team no good.

It wasn’t just the final minute. In the fourth quarter, Durant was 1-of-7 shooting, missed his last four shots, and was a -7. Thompson was 3-of-8 in the fourth and also a -7.

With Curry and Green out — something to expect for a few more games — Durant and Thompson combined to shoot 41.7 percent overall (20-of-48) overall and 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from three. The Warriors can’t win that way, and didn’t.

Don’t read “the Warriors are in trouble” into that — it’s just one game. In November. We all should expect the Warriors to be healthy when it matters most next April and reform Voltron to wipe out the rest of the NBA.

However, in the short term, the Warriors need their stars to step up. This is not as deep a team as Golden State has rolled out during this run, it relies more on its star power, and Saturday night that let them down.

Anthony Davis scores 40, leads Pelicans past Nuggets 125-115

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 10 field goals for New Orleans against Denver on Saturday night. That’s not a bad total, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story about how he carried the Pelicans.

Davis added 20-for-21 shooting from the free throw line and finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Pelicans defeated the Nuggets 125-115 Saturday night.

Davis’ performance on Saturday followed a 43-point effort a night earlier in a win over New York.

“It’s pretty hard to stop him, especially when he gets in a groove like that,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who overcame foul trouble to finish with 19 points and match Davis’ assists. “We don’t think anyone can guard him in the first place.”

Julius Randle had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Nikola Mirotic had 20 points and 10 rebounds and E'Twaun Moore scored 13 for New Orleans, which won for the fifth time in six games.

Nikola Jokic had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Gary Harris scored 24, Juancho Hernangomez had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Monte Morris came off the bench to add 13 and Jamal Murray had 11 for the Nuggets, who lost for the fifth time in six games.

Davis’ assists tied a career-high and it was his seventh game with at least six assists this season. In his previous six seasons, he had just eight such games.

“I just realized that a lot of teams are scouting for me,” Davis said. “They didn’t want me to go off I guess, so I’m just trying to find guys and guys are playing with a lot of confidence and making shots. They know and I know where they are going to be and they know where I like them to be.”

The Pelicans made 31 of 34 free throws, and the Nuggets made 8 of 13.

“I felt we were doing things that should’ve generated some more free throws,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, the referees didn’t see it that way tonight. They saw them getting fouled quite a bit.”

The Pelicans, who rallied from a 19-point deficit against the Knicks, had a much easier time against the Nuggets.

Though Denver got off to a fast start, New Orleans took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed again.

Davis scored 12 points as the Pelicans held a 37-35 lead after the first quarter. He wound up with 12 at halftime as his team clung to a 70-67 halftime lead and even though he had just four points in the third quarter, New Orleans took a 98-88 lead into the final period.

The Nuggets got within seven points three times early in the fourth quarter, but Davis and Holiday scored four points each during an 8-0 run that gave New Orleans a 110-95 lead midway through the quarter.

The closest Denver got after that was nine points.

“It’s hard to stop him,” Jokic said of Davis. “He’s a really great player. We didn’t do a good job tonight.”

 

Luka Doncic leads Mavericks over short-handed Warriors 112-109

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic gave the Dallas Mavericks a glimpse of an exciting future – and extended a bad week for the Golden State Warriors.

The rookie scored 24 points, including a short jumper that put Dallas in front for good, and the Mavericks beat the Warriors 112-109 on Saturday night.

The 19-year-old from Slovenia arrived in the NBA having led Real Madrid to the 2018 Euro League title. On Saturday, he hit a 10-footer in the lane with 1:10 left to put Dallas up 109-108, then sealed the game with two free throws with seven seconds remaining.

“I’ve been doing this when I was in Madrid, too,” Doncic said. “I love the last-minute shot. (But) of course it’s different. It’s the NBA. It’s the best league in the world.”

Golden State played without injured starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and lost for the fourth time in six games. The Warriors dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, and Saturday they led by eight points in the second half before the Mavs rallied.

Kevin Durant scored 32 points, but only three in the fourth quarter on 1-for-7 shooting. Klay Thompson added 22 for the two-time defending NBA champions. Durant missed two shots and Thompson one in the final minute, all of which could have either tied the game or put Golden State ahead.

“You don’t set NBA records being frustrated,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to go over here and dwell on missing a couple of shots, missing a game-tying shot this early in the season.”

Harrison Barnes had 23 points for the Mavericks, who have won four in a row. It was just the second time Dallas has beaten Golden State in their past 19 meetings, the other coming on Dec. 30, 2015 – one of only nine games the Warriors lost that regular season.

An 8-0 Mavs run early in the fourth quarter, capped by Dwight Powell‘s three-point play, gave Dallas its first lead since early in the third quarter, 93-92, with 9:18 to play. After Golden State surged ahead again, the Mavericks hung tough and Dorian Finney-Smith‘s fast-break layup put Dallas back up 107-106 with 1:45 remaining.

“Our guys worked incredibly hard to wear on them throughout the game and we made their shots a little more difficult,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you work as hard as we did, you get luck to go your way.”

In addition to missing Curry (left groin strain) and Green (right toe sprain) in the midst of this rough stretch, the Warriors are still trying to repair the bad feelings caused by Green’s dust-up Monday night with Durant and subsequent suspension.

“Just trying to move forward,” Durant said. “Are we going to talk about this the whole year? We just want to play ball. I know that’s all I want to do.”