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Three Things to Know: Deandre Ayton outduels Luka Doncic in rookie showdown

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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. This was the first full slate of games this season and three of the first four were #LeaguePassAlert games — welcome back NBA.

1) Suns, Deandre Ayton gets best of Mavs’ Luka Doncic in rookie debuts. It’s tedious but let’s start with the required-by-law caveat: It’s just one game. Almost any reaction here is an overreaction. What matters is not where Ayton and Doncic are right now but how much better are they around Christmas. And March.

That said, Ayton showed an offensive game that comes to him with ease and looked the better of the two promising rookies in an opening night showdown.

Ayton had to go up against DeAndre Jordan and did a good job of letting the offense come to him, not forcing it, and he finished with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds, and an impressive six assists. (Credit to new coach Igor Kokoskov, the Suns moved the ball very well and assisted on 78 percent of their baskets.) Ayton did most of his damage deep in the post, mainly when smaller players were switched onto him, but also nailed a few midrange jumpers. His first bucket came with an and-1 against Doncic down low.

That said, on the defensive end of the floor Ayton has a lot of work to do. He just looked lost, without recognition. The book on him coming in was he had never really been taught to defend until college and he just doesn’t have the understanding yet, and that showed. It’s just a reminder he has a LONG way to go on that end.

Dallas’ Doncic couldn’t get his shot to fall (5-of-16 overall and 0-of-5 from three) but the Dallas offense did look smoother with him running it. He still finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists — and a few highlight moments to remind you what he can be.

Phoenix’s Devin Booker was the real offensive star of the game — he scored 17 points in the final five minutes to seal the win and had 35 on the night for the Suns.

2) Pelicans beat down Rockets in opener, win by 19 (and it wasn’t that close). Last season, Houston’s switch-everything defense was seventh best in the NBA and the stops/steals it got helped fuel an elite offense. There were a lot of questions through the summer about how much the losses of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and defensive guru assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik (retirement) were going to set them back.

It’s just one game, but the returns are not good.

The Pelicans picked apart the switches, got mismatches and clean looks, and flat-out thrashed Houston in its home opener 131-112. This was a 17 point game at the half and the Pelicans led by as many as 29 at points. Anthony Davis feasted on the Houston defense on his way to 32 points,16 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks. He looked stronger and was scoring in the post on Clint Capela at times.

The Pelicans big-man trio dominated this game — Nikola Mirotic hit his first six threes and finished with 30 points, and Julius Randle punished switches inside on his way to 25 points and eight rebounds. New Orleans is an interesting combination — they play as fast as any team in the league but will punish teams that go small ball on them. The Rockets struggled with all of that.

Houston will play better — James Harden and Chris Paul were good but not playing at their otherworldly potential, and the defense will improve. But there were other concerns. Carmelo Anthony came off the bench for the first time in his career and looked pedestrian and out of sync, not like a guy who can help the team in May, and shot 3-of-10. Worse yet, Michael Carter-Williams was a mess, getting torched defensively, and on offense the Pelicans at points literally did not guard him and that messed with the spacing and flow of the rest of the offense. Houston has some work to do to get back to the level we all expect of them.

3) Kawhi Leonard looks good — if a bit rusty — in Raptors debut. We saw it with Gordon Hayward in Boston on Tuesday night (and to a degree Kyrie Irving as well): Miss a large chunk of the last season and there’s going to be some expected rust and struggles in the first game of the next season.

That was the Kawhi Leonard story in Toronto. He put up 24 points in his first game, but on 9-of-22 shooting. Early on it was clear the Raptors were feeding him to try to get him rolling, but that had a limited effect (although he did look better in the second half).

It’s just one game, and Leonard was moving and defending well, we need to give him some time to get his game fully back. The Raptors beat the Cavaliers 116-104 and as long as they keep winning Leonard can find his game again without pressure.

BONUS NOTE: Could not end this without a shout out to Allonzo Trier. You might remember him as the player who, when you tuned in to watch Ayton at Arizona last season, you said, “hey, who is No. 35, he’s pretty good?” Trier went undrafted but played his way onto the Knicks’ roster through a solid Summer League (17 points a game) and camp (14.2 average in preseason games, better than Kevin Knox).

Opening night he impressed dropping 15 and making some highlight reel plays. This is a rookie to keep an eye on.

Kevin Love says he expects to return “sometime after the new year”

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Not that it really matters because this season is a lost cause anyway, but Kevin Love is going to be out longer than expected.

Love had surgery on an injured big toe on his left foot on Nov. 2 and the team said he could be back in six weeks, which would be mid-December. Love went on ESPN’s The Jump Tuesday and said expect it to be longer than that, more like January sometime.

“There’s just no telling at this time with the weight-bearing injury what it is going to be like moving forward, but I expect to be back sometime after the new year,” he said.

Love, who was expected to be the focal point of the Cavaliers’ offense, has played in just four games this season.

There has been a lot of speculation about Love as a trade chip but don’t expect anything serious along those lines until next summer. And maybe a year or two after that. Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension that kicks in next season, and considering Love’s injury history and the apparent slight decline in his play, good luck finding a team that wants to pay him $30 million a season for four seasons. Maybe, if Love comes back and looks like a force again, some team that strikes out next summer in free agency could get desperate and be open to a trade. But don’t bet on it.

Love is going to be in Cleveland for a while. Just not on the court until 2019.

Wizards players, coach try to play down last week’s practice blow up, say they’ve moved on

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It’s no secret the 5-11 Washington Wizards are a dumpster fire. A train wreck. The “Sherlock Gnomes” of 2018 movies. It’s so bad that GM Ernie Grunfeld is finally, belatedly, looking into breaking up the core.

It came to a head at a practice last week, one where everyone yelled at everyone, Bradley Beal told Grunfeld he’d been dealing with “this s*** for seven years” and John Wall dropped an F-bomb on coach Scott Brooks. Tuesday, before taking on a hot Clippers’ team, the Wizards tried to downplay everything and say they have moved on, as noted in the video above from NBC Sports Washington.

“I said some things that I regret,” Brooks said. “Our players said some things that they regret. And right after the practice, I had a conversation to hash things out, and everything was good. And then some of our players had some conversations, and they hashed things out, and everything was good.”

Everything was good… until the Wizards stepped on the court and lost a couple more games in a row. Things are clearly not good, but the team is trying to move on as best as it can.

“You see that we’re not winning. Everyone is frustrated. At the end of the day, we have to be able to communicate with each other so we can learn from it and try to build on things together,” Porter said. “That’s the only way we can start winning games, to rally with each other instead of against each other.”

That sounds good, we’ll see if they can execute it.

Dwyane Wade returns to Miami Heat after birth of child

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade is back with the Miami Heat after missing nearly two weeks for the birth of his daughter.

Wade went through Miami’s gameday shootaround and will play Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. He said his wife and their daughter are doing well, which allowed him to feel comfortable to resume his season.

“I’m going to obviously miss them,” Wade said. “It was tough leaving my little girl and my wife, but I’ve got to get back to work and I’ll see them again soon.”

Wade was away from the team for about two weeks because of the birth of his daughter. Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade welcomed Kaavia James Union Wade into the world on Nov. 7. Wade had been in Los Angeles with them since then, and flew back to Miami on Monday.

His return is most certainly welcome in Miami. The Heat went 2-5 in his time away, falling to 6-10 this season. They’ll play Tuesday without guards Goran Dragic (knee), Tyler Johnson (hamstring) and Dion Waiters (ankle recovery from last season).

“There’s a human element to this business and to the game and it is the most important thing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The connection, your spirit, your emotions, everybody getting on the same page, and just seeing Dwyane back here with the guys there was a tangible boost in the energy today in the shootaround.”

Wade is Miami’s third-leading scorer this season at 14.3 points per game. He was in his best stretch of the season when he got the call that his daughter was coming a few weeks earlier than planned.

He said he felt the frustration level his team was going through during their current slide, and he tried to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Wade kept up conditioning while in Los Angeles, but knows it’ll take a little time to get back to the level of a few weeks ago.

“I was so excited for my daughter to come, but I was like, ‘Baby, you know, your dad was playing in a rhythm. You could have waited a little while,'” Wade said. “I was just getting my legs under me, but great things happened to make me miss time, and now I’m back.”

The baby was born via a surrogate, which is one of the reasons why Wade felt taking a brief paternity leave was necessary.

Parents of surrogate-carried babies are told the first few days after the birth are critical to forging deep bonds with their child. Lots of skin-to-skin contact and talking to the baby helps with the bonding.

So Wade needed time, and the Heat supported the plan.

“So much of this league is mood of the team and confidence,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “With him back, we’re definitely a lot more confident moving forward.”

Union-Wade – who revealed she had nine miscarriages in her 2017 book “We’re Going to Need More Wine” – has taken time off work to bond with the new arrival. She’s been filming an upcoming project in Los Angeles, and when she’s back on the set, Kaavia James will be close by.

“She was working right up until we got the call,” Wade said. “When she goes back, my daughter will be going back to the set with her. Her trailer is fit for everything, the baby’s safety, everything. So our baby will be there with her when she’s at work.”

Wade strongly considered retirement during the offseason because of the baby’s arrival, not making the decision to return until just before training camp in September. He questioned whether it was fair to his wife and their family to still be playing and traveling while raising a baby.

He also wondered if he could handle being away from his daughter for long stretches.

“We went through a lot to get here,” Wade said. “My family had to come first right now.”

 

Kevin Durant fined $25,000 for telling fan to “shut the f*** up”

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The percentage of players who would like to tell a courtside fan to “shut the f*** up” would be close to 100.

However, there are 25,000 reasons players don’t do that. Kevin Durant found out the hard way. During the Warriors loss in Dallas Monday, Durant was being heckled by fans along the baseline calling him “cupcake” (an old Russell Westbrook insult) and it got under KD’s skin enough that he told the fans to “watch the f****** game and shut the f*** up.”

The league office, it turns out, does not like it’s players talking to fans that way — at least when it’s caught on video — so Durant was fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

Fans taunting players with the hopes of catching a reaction on video is a growing trend in recent years around the NBA, and so far the league’s response to that has been to remind fans around the court they can be removed for what they are saying (with a postcard note on each seat).

Personally, if you choose to engage a player that way during a game, he has the right to fire back and say whatever he wants. If you want to get in the NBA trash talk game, you have to be able to take it, not just dish it. Those are not the ground rules, however, so KD gets a fine.