76ers

NBA Notes: Kawhi Leonard to miss Spurs' opener with thigh injury

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USA Today Images

NBA Notes: Kawhi Leonard to miss Spurs' opener with thigh injury

HOUSTON — Kawhi Leonard still isn't ready to play.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said the All-Star forward needs more time to get his injured thigh muscle right, meaning he won't be out there when the Spurs open their regular season on Wednesday against Minnesota.

"He's still rehabbing and when he's ready, he'll be ready," Popovich told reporters in Houston before San Antonio's preseason finale.

Leonard didn't play at all in camp or preseason, after a year where he averaged 25.5 points - raising his scoring average for the fifth consecutive season - and finished behind only Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the MVP race (see full story).

Cavaliers: Jefferson, Felder reportedly being dealt to Hawks
CLEVELAND -- Their roster overloaded, the Cavaliers are trading Richard Jefferson and Kay Felder to save money.

Cleveland has agreed to send Jefferson, Felder, two second-round draft picks and $3 million to the Atlanta Hawks in a move that will allow the Eastern Conference champions to avoid paying $12 million in luxury tax penalties, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Friday.

In return, the Cavs will get the rights to two overseas players, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the league still has to approve the transaction. The deal could be completed later Friday or Saturday morning.

Jefferson and Felder were both on Cleveland's bench for Friday night's exhibition finale at Orlando. Jefferson did not return to the sideline for the second half, but Felder did. Neither logged any minutes.

Jefferson and Felder left without talking to reporters. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue declined comment (see full recap).

Celtics: Brown could be team’s X-factor
BOSTON -- One of Jaylen's Brown's nicknames is "Old Man."

It sounds like a strange moniker for a 20-year-old NBA player, until you spend just a few minutes inside Brown's world.

During the Celtics' massive overhaul this summer, the focus was on the trio of new Boston additions: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and rookie Jayson Tatum.

But the forgotten player on Boston's rebuilt roster may be Brown.

The second-year forward out of California, where he was the PAC-12 freshman of the year in his lone year at the school, showed he is as cerebral as he is athletic. He didn't shy away from veteran tasks like guarding LeBron James during the playoffs. Now, he just might be the X-factor for the toughest challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers' recent Eastern Conference supremacy.

Heat: Riley celebrates 50 years in NBA
MIAMI -- Pat Riley often was forced to wonder if his time in the NBA was over. Like when he got pulled out of a drill in his first training camp with San Diego and was told he had to get better. Or when Portland cut the newly married Riley a week after his father died. Or when he realized that his playing days were finished.

The fears were always unfounded.

A half-century later, he's still in the game.

Riley's NBA debut was exactly 50 years ago Saturday -- Oct. 14, 1967, the start of a Hall of Fame career that saw him go from player to broadcaster, broadcaster to coach, coach to executive. The Miami Heat president has stockpiled nine championship rings, became a best-selling author and motivational speaker, transformed the fashion sense of NBA coaches and left an indelible mark on franchises in Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

And he's not done.

"He's still going," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, Riley's former assistant who replaced him as head coach nearly a decade ago. "I think that is the ultimate sign of true greatness, his sustainability and ability to constantly adapt and stay ahead of the curve. He's always three, four, five steps ahead of the competition. His thought process is always ahead of the norm."

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

CAMDEN, N.J. — In some ways, Joel Embiid is a dream to coach. You can go to him in the post whenever you need a bucket, rely on him to erase defensive mistakes, sit back and watch as he takes over games.

But in other ways, coaching Embiid is not an easy job. Brett Brown has to constantly weigh Embiid’s health with the immediate desire to win. That balancing act has never been more difficult for Brown, who commented Wednesday on how he plans to manage Embiid with the playoffs in sight.

“Everything is still, and it should be, delivering him to a playoff round,” Brown said. “It’s not cramming for the exam and doing whatever you can to get home court, it’s not that at all. And so I feel like the path that we’re all on is both professional and responsible. So it’s that more than trying to cram for an exam.”

The Sixers have six back-to-back sets in their final 27 games. Embiid played his first ever back-to-back on Feb. 2 vs. Miami and Feb. 3 at Indiana. Since then, he’s had an injury scare with his right knee (on Feb. 10 vs the Clippers) and missed the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break with a sore right ankle.

That said, Embiid’s obviously taken major steps forward. After being sidelined for his first two NBA seasons and playing just 31 games (and only 25.4 minutes per game) in his rookie year, he’s played in 44 of the Sixers’ first 55 games, and is averaging 31.4 minutes per game.

But the Sixers are 3-8 when Embiid doesn’t play. Without Embiid, the Sixers don’t look like a playoff team. With him, they look like a team which could earn home-court advantage. The Sixers are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference at 30-25, two games behind the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards.

When asked how he’ll generally manage his players’ minutes in the final third of the season, Brown referred to his time as a Spurs assistant, implying that the Sixers will approach things more aggressively than a championship contender.

“In my old life, when you felt like you were going to be in the finals and win a championship, you definitely started managing stuff differently in this final third,” Brown said. “That’s not where we’re at now. We are fighting to get in the playoffs.

“And we’re in a fist fight, we want a little bit more than that. And we’re going to play with that in mind, and when the opportunity arises when I can rest some of our guys, I will. But it’s not about being conservative right now or feeling like we’re entitled and we’re in the playoffs; we aren’t. So we’re still fighting to do that, and I’ll coach it accordingly.”

It might sound like there’s a contradiction between that desire to fight for the postseason and Brown’s goal of “delivering [Embiid] to a playoff round.” The Sixers probably need Embiid to play the majority of their final 27 games to make the playoffs in the first place. On the other hand, nothing in Embiid’s past suggests that he’s capable of playing all six remaining back-to-backs and suiting up fully healthy in Game 1 of the postseason.

The key for Brown is finding the perfect middle ground between riding Embiid hard every night and babying his 7-foot-2 star to the detriment of the team. With the playoffs finally in sight after five seasons of processing, that’s going to be one of Brown’s greatest challenges in the home stretch.  

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

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Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
 
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interesting talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.