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Danny Ainge’s assessment of Celtics right now? “Inconsistent”

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There are moments of late when the Boston Celtics look like the title contenders we expected them to be. Blowing out Golden State a couple of weeks ago, for example, and in some of their wins against lesser teams in recent weeks (the Celtics have won 5-of-7). But losses to the Nuggets and Clippers raised more questions, including about the starting lineup (which has struggled in recent weeks.

If you think it’s hard to get a read on this team, you’re not alone. Check out what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“Inconsistent,” Ainge said. “We look good in stretches of each game. We look good some games. [Monday against Denver] night we just needed to make some shots in some key moments. Like, there’s two or three stretches where Denver made a couple of outside shots and we missed a couple of lay-ins. I don’t think it’s anything disastrous; I just think we need to keep working to get consistent. And we could have used Gordon [Hayward] out there, because there were some open shots to be made.”

He’s not wrong, and the concern is that with 11 games to go in the season it’s a little late to be dealing with these kinds of issues. Boston was the preseason favorites in the East and, while they had work to do to re-integrate Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, it was expected they would be farther down the road than this. It’s concerning, it’s not like this will all instantly come together when the playoffs start.

“Yeah, I don’t believe you can flip a switch,” he said, “but I see a lot of things I like on our team. I like a lot of our energy. We have lapses, but I feel a lot of it is inexperience and maybe communication that we need to get better at. At this stage of the season, we’re still playing lineups out there that probably haven’t played much together. We saw [Al] Horford and [Aron] Baynes out there more than maybe we’ve seen them all year, and that was the foundation of our defense last year. Again, I’m not making excuses. I’m not panicking. I feel much better about our team today than I did two weeks ago.”

In last season’s East, with a vulnerable Cavaliers team as the bar to clear, all this would be less of a concern. However, this year with the Bucks, Raptors, and Sixers looming, whoever comes out of the East is going to have to be playing elite, contender-level basketball.

Boston has that in them, whether they can bring it out consistently enough to win the East remains the question. One they will only be able to answer in May.

 

Draymond Green on Kevin Durant: “If he go, he go. If he stay, he stay,” focus is on title

Associated Press
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The conventional wisdom among front offices (and league observers) is that this summer Kevin Durant will leave the Warriors. He will go to a team — maybe the Knicks, maybe the Clippers, maybe someone else — where he is the dominant force to help grow his legacy. The Warriors of the last three years, the Everest nobody else in the NBA has been able to climb, will be no more.

Just don’t think that is bothering the Warriors.

Not according to Draymond Green, who told Sam Amick of The Athletic that the incident he had with KD early in the season is long forgotten and the team just wants another ring and parade.

“It’s not important,” he said of the Durant dynamic. “We’re not about to sit around and walk around, or carry something around, that happened in November.”

Free agency questions be damned.

“He’s part of it right now,” Green said about Durant. “Whatever happens this summer happens. Whatever the hell he do, he does. If he go, he go. If he stay, he stay. But while he’s here, we’re going to win another championship. It’s just that simple. Nothing else matters.”

The Warriors have shown that attitude recently when they rolled Denver and Oklahoma City, and beat surging Houston without Kevin Durant. Golden State can still flip the switch. They can also still sleepwalk through games (which is why the Nuggets have caught them in the standings).

Internally, the buzz has been the Warriors expect they may well lose Durant. They will have a strong pitch of (likely) having won three straight titles, they can offer more money and guaranteed years than any other team, and they will be opening a new arena in San Francisco proper (close to Durant’s home in the area). That may not be enough, but it has to be a tempting offer.

The idea this could be the last run of this version of the Warriors is fueling the team. It will make them that much harder to knock off.

If KD leaves, then the Warriors will have to return to a lineup like the one that won a title before Durant arrived. Life is so hard for them. (Read that last sentence in a sarcastic voice.)

Kobe on Kuzma, Ingram, Ball: “Are the three of them better than Anthony Davis? No!”

Associated Press
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There are Lakers fans that balked at the idea the franchise would trade their best three young players — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball — for Anthony Davis. Those fans thought that (plus first round picks and salary filler) was too steep a price.

Kobe Bryant disagrees.

Kobe is on a global tour (he was just in China to help with the draw for the FIBA World Cup) and there spoke with the Spanish language sports powerhouse AS.com, and when asked about the possible trade for Davis and the impact on the team, Kobe said this (hat tip Reddit user hoodiefern for posting and translating):

“Kuzma, Lonzo, Ingram… are the three of them better than Anthony Davis? No! Ciao! Bye! Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the world. Not currently, in history. What are we talking about? If you can trade for Anthony Davis, you do it. If not, alright. We have three players who are very young and work hard. They’re smart and they have to develop. But if you can trade for Anthony Davis… yes!”

He’s right.

In the NBA, talent wins and Davis is as talented a player as the league has when unleashed (he has been reined in with the Pelicans since the trade deadline). Put Davis next to LeBron James and the Lakers can quickly become a genuine threat in the West. Whether New Orleans is willing to play along is another question, which is why the Lakers also are focused on free agency.

Elite talent alone is not enough — a lesson the Lakers brass did not take to heart this season. Stars such as LeBron and Davis (or Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, etc.) can thrive in any system because of their talent, but around them needs to be a system and role players picked to fit said system. Want to run a lot of pick-and-roll and/or isolations? Better get shooters who can knock down kick-out passes. Want to play uptempo? Better get athletes who thrive in that system, and shooters. Back in Kobe’s era, the Lakers were a triangle team but the non-stars fit the system and were good shooters of the era (think Derek Fisher, a guard who fit the triangle well but did not thrive in other systems).

Kobe gets that, but he knows the hardest part of the equation to get is the elite talent because there simply isn’t much of it.

The Lakers should be willing to trade their young players for a talent upgrade, but beyond that they still need an identity and players who fit whatever that identity/system is. Oh, and they need shooters.

 

 

Three Things to Know: Nuggets tie Warriors for top seed in West after win

Associated Press
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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.

1) Denver wins, Warriors lose, Nuggets tie Warriors for the top seed in West after win. We know the Warriors are bored with the regular season, but will the potential of losing the top spot in the West spark something in them?

Denver isn’t bored and has things to celebrate — for the first time in five years, the Nuggets are headed to the playoffs. This was a team that has been good for a couple of years — they won 46 games last season, one game short of the dance — but made a leap this season, mostly through continuity. Coach Mike Malone had the right attitude, “I told the guys after: ‘We should feel good about this. Life is about celebrating moments.’” (Via Mike Singer of the Denver Post.)

But this win was more than just a ticket to the dance — at 47-22, the Nuggets are now tied with the Golden State Warriors for the top seed in the West.

Denver did its part going into Boston and getting the win. The early part of this game was telling: Kyrie Irving tried to take over but started 1-of-5 shooting, while the Nuggets moved the ball, shared the load and raced out to a 13-4 lead. Irving would get hot in the second half and finished with 30 points (on 10-of-23 shooting), but Denver had seven players in double figures, led by another night from Nikola Jokic, who had 21 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. More than just the numbers, he impacts every aspect of the game when on the court. He just seemed to make the right decisions all night.

The Warriors fell back to the Nuggets, although this Golden State loss was understandable — on the road against a red-hot San Antonio team that has won nine straight, and the Warriors were without DeMarcus Cousins (although Andrew Bogut had his moments in his debut). The Splash Brothers had more of a perfect Greg Louganis Olympics dive on the night — no splash at all. Klay Thompson shot 5-of-18, while Stephen Curry had 25 points but needed 25 shots to get there, although Curry did hit this.

The Nuggets have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way, which is why fivethirtyeight.com predicts they will finish second in the conference, three games back of the Warriors (the teams play again April 2). But if the Warriors continue to be bored and the Nuggets keep going into places like Boston and getting wins, anything can happen.

2) Isaiah Thomas feels the love in return to Boston. This was the real highlight out of the Celtics-Nuggets game.

Celtics fans never got to give Isaiah Thomas the send-off tribute he deserved. They did on Monday when he returned as a member of the Nuggets.

Thomas was undersized, relatable hero who played like an MVP, led the Celtics to the playoffs, all while playing through hip pain and the death of his sister. He loved the city and was active in the community. He embodied what Celtics fans want to see in their stars.

It was good to see him get that emotional moment.

Thomas was scoreless in seven minutes on the court. Hopefully, he can come back next season fully healthy in a situation where he can showcase his talents.

3) Dirk Nowitzki passes Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on NBA all-time scoring list. Nowitzki — the greatest shooting big man the NBA has ever seen and its best-ever European player — can now add another accolade to his long list of them.

With 8:33 left in the first quarter, Nowitzki took a handoff from Luka Doncic‘s handoff, backed down New Orleans’ Kenrich Williams to get to his spot, then drained a turnaround from the midrange. It was a signature move that gave Nowitzki 31,420 points in his career, one more than the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.

Nowitzki is now sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan).

By the way, the Pelicans won the game in overtime behind the fifth straight triple-double from Elfrid Payton, who had 19 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Doncic had a triple-double of his own on the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Spurs take down Warriors, extend streak to 9 straight wins

Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan had 26 points and nine rebounds, LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points and 13 rebounds and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Golden State Warriors 111-105 on Monday night for their ninth straight win.

San Antonio won its 11th straight at home and moved into fifth in the Western Conference at 42-29 following Oklahoma City’s loss to Miami.

Stephen Curry had 25 points after a slow start and Kevin Durant added 24 for Golden State, which entered the game having won two straight.

The Warriors have dropped into a tie with Denver for first place in the West with matching 47-22 records.

There were nine ties in the intense matchup between the West’s best and the league’s hottest team.

The Warriors had to rally in the second half after a sluggish start.

Curry and Klay Thompson opened the game a combined 0 for 11, but the Warriors’ defense allowed them to tie the game at 25 when Curry threw in a 61-footer to close the first quarter.

Thompson finished with 14 points.

After trailing by 11 in the third quarter, the Warriors’ offense awoke to silence the sold-out crowd with a 16-5 run to forge a 75-all tie. The run included a shakedown, step-back 3-pointer by Curry and a pair of quick passes from Curry to Draymond Green to Shaun Livingston for an emphatic dunk. Curry had eight points in the run.

DeRozan scored 10 points in the final quarter, including a pair of pull-up jumpers over Thompson, to seal the victory.

Rudy Gay added 17 points for San Antonio and Derrick White had 12.