Notes from Day 1 of NBA Summer League: Jalen Green is a bucket


LAS VEGAS — There is far too much action at NBA Summer League to catch it all.

That’s why I will put together a notes column of things I see and hear during my time in Vegas, expect a few of these this week (I am in Vegas until Thursday). I didn’t see every game on the opening Sunday of the league, but here are a few things worth mentioning:

Jalen Green is a bucket.

This shouldn’t be a shock, and not just because he’s the No. 2 pick and landed there because he can score inside and out. It’s also because in Las Vegas, the Rockets’ new wing is actually facing a step down in competition level from the G-League level he saw with the Ignite this last season — those G-League games were filled with legit NBA hopefuls and former NBA vets. Summer League has a lot of rookies and guys who will be playing in Europe next season.

“The ultimate goal for the G League Ignite was to be a pro and learn the game as much as we can before we head up to the NBA,” Green said, via the AP. “I think we accomplished that. We learned how to be a pro on and off the court. I think I showed it tonight.”

Whatever the competition, Green impressed and did it all. He scored 23 points, hit 4-of-9 from three, and had a couple of dimes. He looks like a player who can score Day One in the NBA — which is what the book was on him before the draft, but this felt like a confirmation.

Summer League is made for a scorer like Green (unlike the game of No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham), and that could carry over to their rookie seasons, where Green will continue to put up numbers.

• Speaking of Cunningham, he spoke about coming into a team as the No. 1 pick and trying to fit in.

“I know what the perspective of my teammates would be having the No. 1 pick come in,” Cunningham said. “I not trying to be a guy who comes in and is all about me and take all of that space up. I want to respect their space, they’re trying to build on their games. Saddiq [Bey] is coming off a, what was it, First Team All-Rookie? I want him to build on that, trying to elevate himself. For me, it’s just coming in and trying to be the best teammate I can be.”

• Speaking of Bey… One good rule of thumb with Summer League: If a player got regular run as a rookie, he should be a cut above everyone else at this event. The Piston’s Saddiq Bey was exactly that, just clearly better the competition when he was on the court in his Summer League opener, finishing with 14 points and 12 boards for the Pistons. He showed improved handles and with that created his own shot in a way we didn’t see a lot of during last season.

• Of course, COVID continued to reach into the NBA the way it has the rest of American life. The Wizards vs. Pacers game had to be postponed, and it’s not clear when enough Washington players will be cleared from health and safety protocols for them to resume play. The Rockets also were without a player due to COVID protocols.

• Lakers two-way player Austin Reaves had the putback game-winner of the day.

Evan Mobley showed some flashes of the athleticism and potential that made him the No. 3 pick, but like many bigs entering the league, he has got to get a lot stronger to handle the contact at this level. Plus, his game just needs more polish. (This is not a knock, bigs just take longer to develop. Ask Deandre Ayton.)

LiAngelo Ball scored 16 and looked sharp from three in his Summer League debut for the Hornets.

• Rockets’ first-round pick Alperen Sengun was a little more athletic than advertised and did some things well, with 15 points and 15 boards, plus a couple of highlight moves. He was active but had some rookie struggle moments, like when he got boxed in under the rim a few times, plus there were some other weak stretches. Still, he was making things happen.

Sengun got to the line 14 times in the game and his free throw routine is… unique. Before taking his shot, he appears to talk to the ball (ala Mark “The Bird” Fidrych).

• Nearly as strange, Luka Garza‘s free throw routine does not involve dribbling the ball. Even once. He gets the ball, walks up, toes the line, and shoots.

• The first time Thunder first-round pick Josh Giddey touched the ball he ran Cunningham into a screen (Cunningham got hung up on it), turned the corner, and drove in for a dunk.

He also made a couple of nifty passes but played just five minutes before spraining an ankle, and he was out for the game.

Mo Bamba is not playing for the Magic at Summer League but he is in Las Vegas and practicing with the team. Bamba got more run at the end of last season after Nikola Vucevic was traded to Chicago, and how with a new coach (Jamahl Mosley) in Orlando, Bamba said he wanted to learn the system and get some work in with the new staff.

Joel Embiid scores 46 but 76ers still fall short against Poole, Warriors


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jordan Poole emerged as one of Golden State’s most dependable performers during the championship run last season.

He resembled that go-to guy once again Friday night when the Warriors needed everything he had, with the ever-reliable Draymond Green doing his thing, too.

“Opportunity,” Poole said of his stellar fourth quarter playing all 12 minutes.

Poole scored 33 points and swished a key 3-pointer with 1:18 to play off a pretty pass by Green, Stephen Curry added 29 points and eight rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors rallied past Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers 120-112 on Friday night.

“Tonight something about it felt like last year in that playoff run when Jordan was just attacking and knocking down shots but also getting to the line just giving us an entirely different dimension offensively,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s when he’s at his best. I thought he really competed down the stretch defensively as well. He was magnificent tonight.”

Embiid checked back into the game with 8:26 left and scored 13 straight on the way to 46 points.

But the Warriors came back from 11 down for their ninth straight home win — and one of the most important yet as they fight for playoff positioning.

Green noted: “Nobody wants to be in that play-in, the play-in is dangerous.”

Curry dribbled the baseline and around Embiid for a go-ahead jumper with 2:20 to play. Klay Thompson tied it at 104 with 5:05 left, only for Embiid to drive straight down the key for a dunk. He did miss consecutive shots in crunch time, too.

Poole’s driving dunk with 8:27 left got Golden State back to 93-91 then Kevon Looney’s putback after Embiid blocked a layup try by Poole cut it to 102-101.

Embiid shot 13 for 23, made 19 of 22 free throws and had nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He helped Philadelphia take an 88-79 lead going into the fourth. He had his streak of scoring 30 or more points in a franchise-record 10 straight games snapped in Wednesday’s 116-91 win at Chicago but made up for it.

Golden State nemesis James Harden sat out with left Achilles soreness for the Sixers, who had won nine of 10 and 10 of 12.

Thompson added 21 points and six rebounds and Looney contributed six points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Warriors reached 30 home wins for the sixth time since 2014-15 and second in a row.

“You want to take care of home court as best as you can,” Poole said.

Green had 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for Golden State, which had some momentum from two straight wins on the road following an 11-game skid away from Chase Center.

“I feel good. It’s that time of year you’ve got to turn everything up a notch,” Green said. “I love this time of year.”

Philadelphia, which had won the last two matchups, made 10 of 17 shots to start the game but missed its first eight 3-point tries before Georges Niang connected at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter.

Luka Dončić fined for money gesture toward referee after loss


The Mavericks were livid about the officiating in their loss to the Warriors, particularly the miscommunication about a third-quarter out-of-bounds play that gave Golden State an uncontested bucket in what ended up being a two-point game.

Frustrated or not, everyone knew Luka Dončić crossed a line and would get fined when he made a gesture suggesting the referees were paid off.

Friday the NBA came down with a $35,000 fine for Dončić “for directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture toward a game official.” While that’s a steep price it could have been much worse — the referee did not give Dončić a technical foul at the time, which would have been his 16th and triggered a one-game suspension without pay.

Dončić wasn’t the only person fined by the league for snapping at the officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 on Friday “for public criticism of the officiating.” Williams was frustrated after losing to the Lakers on a night where Los Angeles got to the line 46 times to Phoenix’s 20.

“Where do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team?” Williams said after the game. “That’s just not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It is happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same call, and I’m tired of it. It’s old… I’m over it. Been talking about the same thing for a while. Doesn’t matter what team it is.”

It doesn’t matter what team it is for a reason. First, the Suns do not draw a lot of fouls because they are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the rim (especially without Kevin Durant), they settle for jump shots. Second, they have the highest foul rate in the league — they foul a lot. Those two things will lead to a free throw disparity nightly (they had players who could draw fouls, Mikal Bridges is doing it now in Brooklyn, but the Suns didn’t put the ball in his and ask him to attack as the Nets have, Phoenix used him as a shooter and cutter off the ball more often).

The tensions between players and referees feel ratcheted up this season, and these are just the latest examples.

Report: Kevin Durant targeting March 29 return vs. Timberwolves


When Kevin Durant sprained his ankle during warmups, the Suns said he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. It turns out it may be more than a re-evaluation.

Durant is targeting a return almost three weeks to the day from when he injured himself, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

There has been no official update from the Suns, but Durant’s camp has always been optimistic about a return.

The Suns have gone 2-5 without Durant and slid into a virtual tie with the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the West. If Durant returns Wednesday, Phoenix would have seven games left to hold off Los Angeles and retain home court in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, they could generate some chemistry before the postseason begins.

Durant averaged 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game with a ridiculous 80.8 true shooting percentage in his three games with the Suns, and the team won all three games. The fit seemed almost seamless and if the Suns can get back to that they are a threat to win the wide-open West.

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the West.

Where’s the beef? Anthony Davis says ‘Me and Bron have one of the best relationships’ in NBA


Whispers and reports of a split in the Lakers’ locker room and a beef between Anthony Davis and LeBron James gained momentum after Davis’ reaction to LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record went viral. Talking Lakers drama is always an excellent way to get clicks/eyeballs/listeners and so once a rumor like a beef between the team’s two biggest stars begins rolling down the hill it does not stop.

Even if Davis says there is nothing to it, everything is good between him and LeBron. Here’s the quote he gave to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Me and Bron have one of the best relationships I think in the NBA as far as duos or teammates, regardless,” Davis said. “But they don’t see that. They don’t see the stuff we do off the court and time we hang out with each other. They see on-court stuff.”

The reality is it doesn’t matter if LeBron and Davis are buddies, hanging out together drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and laughing behind Frank Vogel’s back. What matters is whether they can get along and thrive on the court. There’s a banner hanging in Arena that says they can if they stay healthy and management puts the right kinds of role players around them.

The healthy part is in the way right now, with LeBron out for at least a couple more weeks with a tendon foot injury (whether he returns before the season ends is up in the air). The Lakers are 7-5 in the dozen games he has missed with this injury thanks to a defense — anchored by Davis — that is third-best in the NBA over that stretch. That has kept their head above water, but the Lakers are in a tight race where six teams — from the 7-12 seeds, making up all the play-in teams and a couple that will miss out — are tied in the loss column at 37. The Lakers need more wins, including Friday night in a critical game against the Thunder.

The Lakers will need LeBron back — and LeBron and Davis to rekindle their on-court chemistry — if they are going to make any kind of a playoff run. First they just have to get to the postseason, which will fall more on Davis. Of late, he has looked up to the task.