Watch Irving score 22, but with Harden out it is not enough, Trail Blazers top Nets

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Anfernee Simons had 23 points and 11 assists, and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers took advantage of James Harden‘s absence for a 114-108 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

Harden was out with a hyperextended left knee. Kyrie Irving started in his second game of the season and finished with 22 points. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets.

Robert Covington had 21 points, including five 3-pointers, for the Blazers, who saw all five starters score in double figures.

Simons said Covington’s play against Durant boosted the team.

“I think RoCo did a good job of playing him the second half,” Simons said. “So that was that was big for us to slow him down and just kind of play team defense. We’ve been playing very hard, we’ve been making a lot less mistakes on defense. That’s been helping us.”

Monday’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 23 but was postponed because of COVID-19 issues. In making up the game, both teams were playing the second of back-to-backs.

Portland led 87-81 going into the final quarter. Covington’s 3-pointer put Portland up 107-100 with 2:15 to go but the Nets closed within 110-105 down the stretch.

Ben McLemore‘s 3 with 31.9 seconds left made it 113-105 and sealed it for Portland. McLemore finished with 20 points and five 3s.

“Certainly nobody in the world thought that we would win this game with the guys that we have missing, even though they’re missing some important players too,” Portland first-year coach Chauncey Billups said. “I’m more happy than anything for our team, to be honest. We’ve suffered a lot of losses in this building, a lot of bad losses.”

The Blazers again were without Damian Lillard, out with lower abdominal tendinopathy, and backcourt teammate CJ McCollum, who has been out for 14 games after a collapsed lung. Fellow starters Norman Powell (COVID-19 protocols) and Larry Nance Jr. (right knee) were also out for Portland.

Meanwhile, Nets coach Steve Nash said the team was being cautious with Harden in a dense stretch of games and that Harden should be available on Wednesday at Chicago.

Irving, who has refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine and is barred from playing in New York due to the city’s vaccine mandate, has resumed playing on the road. For his first game last week at Indiana, he finished with 22 points in nearly 32 minutes.

“It felt like I made a few good moves, but now it’s just getting back in that NBA action of that athleticism and catching up to that speed, that’s really what it is at this point, I feel,” Irving said.

Irving appeared to tweak his ankle in the fourth quarter but afterward said he was fine and would play Wednesday. He criticized Portland’s Nassir Little for diving on the play: “I tried to get out of the way but I just felt like it was unnecessary for him to dive that far away from the ball.”

Brooklyn led 62-55 at the break, paced by Durant with 20 points. It was his 19th straight game with 20 or more points, the second-longest streak of 20-point games in Nets history.

“Second half, they hit 3s in that third quarter, they hit 3s in that fourth quarter. You gotta give them credit for knocking down shots but I thought we were there, intentions were good,” Durant said. “We’ve just got to finish it a little better, finish plays a little better.”

The Nets arrived in Portland late Sunday after wrapping up the win over the Spurs and flying across the country. Then there’s another long flight ahead for Wednesday night’s game at the Bulls. And on Thursday, they’re back at home against the Thunder.

The Nets are playing four games in five days, and five games in the next seven days.

“I think it’s really important for us to take day-by-day right now. I know that’s a cliche, but I think that is the smartest way to approach this,” Nash said.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.

 

Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
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RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.