Kevin Durant spent his night smiling. Russell Westbrook spent his trying to wipe the smile off Durant’s face. (AP) Yeah, so, about all that “just a regular game” stuff: Sure, Kevin Durant got the relevant firsts over with last season. Even so, everyon…
Author: Dan Devine
The Boston Celtics have been living dangerously over the past couple of weeks, falling down by double figures to the Charlotte
Too late, as it turned out, and too little, thanks in large part to Dion Waiters.
The Heat shooting guard scored eight points in the final three minutes, including back-to-back 3-pointers — one on a generous bounce off the top of the backboard, another dead on from the left corner — to stem the tide after the Celtics drew within one point:
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) November 23, 2017
Waiters also delivered an exclamation point dunk that gave Miami a seven-point edge with 35 seconds left …
— NBA (@NBA) November 23, 2017
… and this time, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics just didn’t have enough late-game magic in them to go the distance, as the Heat scored a 104-98 victory that snapped Boston’s NBA-season-best winning streak at 16.
Waiters finished with 26 points on 11-for-24 shooting to go with six assists and two rebounds in a team-high 36 minutes. His backcourt partner, Goran Dragic, led the way with 27 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 20 of which came before halftime, to go with five rebounds and four assists for the Heat, who bounced back from an embarrassing 25-point loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday to improve to 8-9 on the season.
Irving scored 12 of his 23 points in a final frame that saw the Celtics jolt to life to score 35 points to try to once again eke out a win after being outplayed in the early going. But despite a 13-0 run midway through the fourth that got them within a single point with 3:14 to go, the Celtics couldn’t get over the hump to overcome a frustrating offensive effort in which they shot just 41.7 percent from the floor as a team, or an uncharacteristically iffy defensive performance in which they allowed the Heat to shoot 49.4 percent from the floor, with Dragic and the inimitable Waiters leading the way.
With the loss, their first in more than a month, the Celtics put a period at the end of the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history. They also fall to 16-3, four games up on the Detroit Pistons for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
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Blake Griffin looks up at the spot he and the Clippers used to occupy in the standings. (Getty) Three weeks ago, things were going well for the Los Angeles Clippers. Sure, they’d just gotten blasted yet again by the Golden State Warriors, but that was …
Joel Embiid continued his ongoing efforts to establish himself as the NBA’s foremost troll and trash-talk enthusiast on Monday night, rejecting a layup attempt by Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell and enthusiastically letting him hear about it:
After the Philadelphia 76ers center erased Mitchell’s shot, stared him down and told the rookie guard to “get that s*** out of here,” Mitchell responded by getting up and shoving Embiid, who flopped his way to the floor, prompting the refs to hit Mitchell with a technical foul as Embiid smiled and incited the Philadelphia crowd. After the game, Embiid noted that he and Mitchell later shook hands, and said the play and its aftermath were “just about having fun.”
And it was fun! It was a display of the sort of personality that, in concert with remarkable physical gifts and a borderline terrifying skill set, has made Embiid an Internet darling and an emerging star. As these sorts of moments pile up, though, it seems reasonable to wonder whether, one of these days, a bigger, stronger, angrier opponent than the 6-foot-3 Mitchell will take exception to Embiid’s one-man show and decide to take a run at the Sixers’ main man.
ESPN’s Jemele Hill posed that very question to Embiid during his appearance on Wednesday evening’s episode of “SC6.” You’re not going to believe this, but JoJo isn’t overly concerned about suffering any physical consequences from his taunts and trolls:
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) November 22, 2017
“Are you at all concerned that your constant trolling of other players, that that’s going to encourage people that when they get that opportunity to take off on you — kind of almost like Kyle
“Oh, no,” Embiid quickly answered. “I’m not worried about that. I mean, if those guys, they want to get their feelings hurt, if they’re not strong mentally, that’s not my fault. I think when it comes down to it, if we’ve all got to square up, I mean, I’m 7-foot-2 and I’m a big dude. So I don’t think you want to try me. And I’m African, too.”
That last bit harkens back to a story that Embiid told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins last year:
Embiid was raised in an upper middle class home in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde. His parents made him wash his own clothes by hand, but they employed a maid. His mother drove a Mercedes. He ate omelettes for breakfast. He was not allowed to play sports until he had memorized all the notes he jotted throughout the day’s classes. “I was a little soft,” Embiid says, “but the Americans had no idea about any of that. They just knew I was from Africa. They thought I grew up poor, in the jungle, killing lions. I was like, If that’s how they think of me, I’m going to use it.”
I’m not so sure that particular flavor of fear induction’s going to play in a league packed with professionals who’ve all got their own stories of hardscrabble come-ups, but hey, old habits die hard. If he wants to dissuade opponents from testing him, Embiid’s probably better served sticking with his first approach: leaning on the fact that he’s a freaking mountain. That’ll probably work better … until the day he says the wrong thing to the wrong guy on the wrong night, anyway.
Embiid, for his part, doesn’t seem inclined to tone down his trash talk in fear of that comeuppance coming. On the contrary: the league’s most must-watch young monster sees it as just part of the full-fledged entertainment package that “The Process” provides to the fans of Philadelphia, and the broader NBA-watching world.
“That’s the whole point of playing basketball,” Embiid told Hill. “Having fun. Go out there, have fun, kick someone’s ass and just play basketball.”
It’s an awfully good and clean mission statement, Joel. We wish you the best of luck in adhering to it and also avoiding takedown attempts from the smaller people you’re sure to infuriate in the weeks, months and years to come.
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Antonio Blakeney introduces himself to the NBA-watching world. (Screencap via NBA TV) After going undrafted out of LSU, Antonio Blakeney caught on with the Chicago Bulls’ 2017 Summer League team. He showed them enough there to earn a two-way contract w…
As you have surely read, here and elsewhere, Lonzo Ball is having a rough go of it early in his NBA career. The former UCLA standout has produced flashes; posting two triple-doubles faster than anyone not named LeBron James is nothing to sneeze at. But his persistent shooting woes and historically inefficient offensive play, coupled with the fact that the Lakers have been 4.1 points per 100 possessions better with him off the court, have led at least some fans and observers to wonder whether L.A. might be better off letting Lonzo take a seat rather than continue to start and log 33 minutes a night.
Lakers coach Luke Walton has chosen to keep running Lonzo out there so he can keep learning from his mistakes — including the ones you can’t experience from (or near) the bench — in hopes that the 2017 NBA draft’s No. 2 overall pick will come out of his career-opening funk with a clearer picture of what’s expected of him and how to move in the big leagues. You will be stunned to learn that Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball — sorry, Coach Kerr — has a different view of how Walton and his coaching staff should approach his son!
“Go get the W. Do whatever it takes. That’s why I’m down here saying, ‘Rebound,’” [LaVar Ball] continued. “[Lonzo’s] been away from me too long. I see tendencies in his game — they’re trying to baby him a little bit.” […]
“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”
Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?
“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded. […]
“What I mean by babying [Lonzo], ‘He’ll figure it out,’” Ball said. “It ain’t about that. ‘Be patient with him?’ Ain’t no patience if you’re winning.”
“They’re letting it go too easy, saying they’re a young team,” he continued. “Forget about that! Put the [onus] on them. Say, ‘You guys need to win. You’ve got enough talent. Win some games.’”
In fairness to Walton and his staff, the Lakers have won some games. A young, rebuilding team pegged by many to rank among the West’s worst again this year has opened the season a surprisingly decent 7-10, sitting just a half-game out of the conference’s No. 8 seed. They’ve struggled to produce in tight games, getting outscored by nearly 24 points per 100 possessions in “clutch” situations (games in which the score is within five points in the final five minutes), according to NBA.com’s stats. But they’re getting balanced contributions, with seven players scoring in double figures led by surprising star rookie Kyle Kuzma, and continue to hustle on defense, holding opponents to the NBA’s 10th-lowest field goal percentage (and lowest 3-point percentage) en route to a No. 4 ranking in points allowed per possession. They’ve been better, on balance, than just about anyone would’ve projected before the start of the season.
Except, it seems, for LaVar.
That stands to reason. For one thing, he’s famously prone to bombast and overstatement. For another, he predicted the Lakers would go to the playoffs as soon as they drafted Lonzo. (See previous sentence.) And, of course, he’s never been shy about sharing his views on how his sons and their teams should be coached.
That said, this specific thing is one where it might behoove us to listen to LaVar Ball. When it comes to brand management, building an apparel empire, conducting foreign policy or the proper presentation of politeness in the aftermath of international incidents, your mileage may (and perhaps should!) vary. When it comes to the training and coaching of his oldest son, though, maybe it’s not too bad an idea to bend an ear to the guy who’s been training and coaching him for his entire life.
Players respond differently to different approaches. Thus far, the only consistent thing about Lonzo’s NBA play — outside of the fact that he keeps rebounding and passing even when his shot’s not falling, putting him on track to become just the fourth rookie ever to average seven boards and seven dimes per game — is that he’s seemed to respond best when fighting out of the corner after a down game.
After Patrick Beverley welcomed him to the NBA by eating him alive, Ball bounced back with 29 points on 27 shots, 11 rebounds and nine assists the next night. After conceding in Boston that his shooting troubles were weighing on him, he flirted with a triple-double against the Washington Wizards and got one against the Milwaukee Bucks. After a whisper-quiet game against Philly and walking away from the fray against Phoenix, he steps up against Denver.
If Lonzo does work best when responding to adversity, maybe LaVar’s got a point, and getting on him more severely would produce the best results in the here and now. Walton, though, is charged with building something sustainable in L.A., not just trying to get more wins today. And from where Walton sits, there’s no shortage of adversity in the day-to-day operation of a young, sub-.500 team from which Ball and his fellow precocious Lakers can learn.
“As you’re building, you’re on that path. It’s never [smooth],” Walton said, according to Pincus. “It’s never just you get it and all of a sudden you don’t have slippage anymore. Every team goes through it. The important thing for us is that we learn from our mistakes, we keep our head up, we keep working and grinding away to get where we all want to be.”
Nobody disputes that LaVar Ball played a significant role in getting his first-born son where he wanted to be — in the NBA, making millions of dollars to be the point guard of the Lakers. And everybody knows that where Lonzo is right now — bricking jumper after jumper and free throw after free throw, earning more headlines for his struggles than his triumphs — isn’t where anyone wants him to wind up. The question now is whether the coach who got Lonzo to the pros, or the one tasked with teaching him how to be a pro, is best equipped to get the Laker point guard past his current struggles and to his hoped-for destination.
One thing that seems clear: if Lonzo keeps missing seven out of every 10 shots and the Lakers stay under .500, the grumbling out of the Big Baller camp will only get louder … which could create some headaches in the locker rooms and executive suites at Staples Center.
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Retired 10-time NBA All-Star Ray Allen asked a Florida court Tuesday to throw out a case in which he stands accused of stalking, claiming that he’d been “catfished” by a man he met online but has never physically encountered.
From the Associated Press:
Allen filed an emergency motion in Orange County, Florida, on Tuesday, one day after Bryant Coleman told the court he is being stalked by the 10-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion.
Allen said Coleman is the one who is stalking.
“Coleman pretended to be a number of attractive women interested in Ray Allen,” read the motion filed on Allen’s behalf. “Ray believed he was speaking with these women and communicated with them.”
Allen’s attorney, David Oscar Markus, issued a statement on his client’s behalf claiming that the two-time NBA champion “was the victim of an online scheme to extract money and embarrass him by someone who appears to be troubled,” and who has made various threats “against Ray and his family.”
According to court documents obtained by TMZ Sports, Allen “claims he met these ‘women’ in ‘various online forums’ and communicated with them … sometimes sharing ‘private information.’” Allen claims in the filing that he later “got [Coleman] to sign a confidentiality agreement in which he agreed to stop posting about Ray — but [Coleman] violated the deal” by visiting Allen’s wife’s restaurant in Orlando and posting items to social media in which he tagged Allen and his family members.
“Ray has taken legal action to put an end to the threats and to expose his manipulation and wrongdoing,” Markus wrote in the statement. “Ray regrets ever engaging with this person online and is thankful they never met in person. The experience has negatively impacted Ray, and he hopes that others might use his mistake to learn from the dangers of communicating online with strangers.”
Allen, 42, is the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals and attempts, making 2,973 triples in 7,429 tries over the course of an 18-year career spent with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. He last played in the NBA for the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, never making a comeback despite many rumored potential returns to the court.
He officially retired just over one year ago.
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Kyrie Irving looks up at the scoreboard and wonders how he got all those points with so few shots. (AP) They’ve needed a little bit more time to get up to speed over the past few games. But the Boston Celtics just won’t stop rolling. For the third stra…
DeMarcus Cousins got a flagrant-2, and automatic ejection, for this elbow on Russell Westbrook. (AP) Entering Monday night, about five weeks into the 2017-18 NBA season, the most remarkable thing about the league’s leaderboard when it comes to ejection…
It’s been nearly three weeks since Jahlil Okafor made it clear that he wants to leave a Philadelphia 76ers team that no longer seems to have any use for the center they chose with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. In that time, the Sixers have played eight games. Okafor has appeared in one of them, a Nov. 7 win over the Utah Jazz. Philly played that game without star center Joel Embiid. Even so, Okafor got just three minutes and eight seconds of tick behind veteran Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes … whom the Sixers drafted 34 spots after Okafor in 2015.
That outing brought the former Duke standout to a grand total of 25 minutes played in the 2017-18 NBA season, one that sees him operating as an end-of-the-bench afterthought on a team that has moved on without him. Chukwudi Okafor — Jahlil’s dad, a proud papa more than willing to publicly defend and advocate for his son — expressed his displeasure at the stasis, showing up to the 76ers’ Saturday night game against the Golden State Warriors wearing a shirt bearing a simple two-word message on the back:
Jahlil Okafor’s father wore a shirt to the game that said “Free Jah” on the back of it.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) November 19, 2017
— Philly Sports Talk (@PhilaSports_) November 19, 2017
After the game, which saw the Sixers get out to a roaring start before the defending NBA champions flipped the switch and blew their doors off in the second half, several members of the Warriors — including former NBA Most Valuable Players Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, and Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green — posed with Jahlil’s dad as he showcased the shirt’s message:
— McKinley Nelson (@McKinleyNelson_) November 19, 2017
It sucks to ride the bench, but at least it’s nice to have some high-profile supporters in your corner, I suppose. (Also, it’s nice to find some common ground where members of the Warriors and Cavaliers can come together. Well, beyond not liking a sitting president, anyway.)
It’s not unreasonable for the Sixers to conclude that Okafor, a polished post player who doesn’t have range out to the perimeter and who struggles to protect the rim or defend in space, should not be part of the long-term calculus on a Sixers team that will be built around the 7-foot-1 Embiid and the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons. Okafor obviously doesn’t like that he’s no longer a part of the Sixers’ plans, but he has come to accept it.
He has requested a buyout or trade that would allow him to try to catch on elsewhere so he can try to rebuild his perceived value around the league before he enters unrestricted free agency this summer — a market in which he’ll find himself because Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo chose not to exercise the fourth-year option on Okafor’s rookie contract. Despite those requests, though, nothing’s moving. Unless Colangelo can find some GM willing to part ways with a second-rounder out of the kindness of his heart, or until Colangelo realizes he can’t get anything for a player whose market doesn’t exist, Okafor remains stuck.
Maybe Colangelo will warm up and decide to cut the 21-year-old big man loose so he can set about restarting his career. Until that sudden burst of holiday charity comes, though, it looks like Okafor will continue manning a spot on Brett Brown’s bench, and his dad will continue making his screen-printed statements.
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