76ers

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

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Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have fired coach Earl Watson just three games in to the NBA season.

The Suns announced the firing Sunday night after hours of meetings at the team's headquarters.

Assistant coach Jay Triano, a former head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was named interim coach. Triano was an assistant at Portland before coming to Phoenix last year.

Watson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of the Suns after Jeff Hornacek was fired Feb. 1, 2016. The interim tag was removed on April 19 of that year. With an extremely young team, the Suns struggled under Watson. He compiled a 33-85 record. Watson's only full season was 2016-17, when the team went 24-58.

The 38-year-old Watson played collegiately at UCLA and in the NBA for 10 seasons. He often spoke of his long talks with John Wooden, emphasized togetherness and a family atmosphere to nurture the young squad but wins were hard to come by.

And owner Robert Sarver apparently didn't like what he saw. Phoenix is 0-3 and two of the losses were especially ugly. The Suns were blown out 124-76 by the Portland in their season opener Wednesday night, the most one-sided loss in franchise history and the most one-sided season opener for any NBA team.

Phoenix was routed by the Clippers in Los Angeles 130-88 on Saturday night.

"I Dont wanna be here," point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday, just as the news of Watson's firing surfaced in an ESPN report. The tweet by Bledsoe, a former Clipper, was followed by one from the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan saying "Come back home bro."

Bledsoe has been rumored in possible trades for months.

Watson's dismissal is the first NBA coaching change in well over a year. Hornacek's hiring by the New York Knicks, which was finalized in June 2016, had been the most recent change -- and the irony there is that Watson got the job in Phoenix with 33 games left in the 2015-16 season, after the Suns fired Hornacek.

Watson was the league's second-youngest active coach behind the Lakers' Luke Walton, and the Suns were tied with the Chicago Bulls as having the youngest opening-night roster in the NBA this season.

"I'd like to see the fight be a little bit more," Watson said after the blowout loss to the Clippers. "Or a lot more, until you know they're just fatigued."

The Suns came into this season with only four losses by 40 or more points in franchise history. They've had two in the first three games of this season. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in seven years, the longest drought in the franchise's 49-year history.

Watson was the 17th Suns coach in the franchise's history.

This was the first NBA season where every coach who started one year had the same job to begin the next.

Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

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Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.

Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.

The team has not one, but two transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.

Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. 78 points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.

From Game One, Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 20.3 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.

Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 18.3 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land. Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.  

But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First-overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has played in just four games this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Take a look at the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third-overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring nearly 14 points per game and pulling down more than 5.5 rebounds, while shooting close to 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.

Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to adjustments and growing pains incorporating with Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from Saric.

The other crazy thing about the wins against the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which J.J. Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside in the Lakers game, but he’s here to knock down shots.

I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky, it happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first-overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.

To be winning without much of a contribution from these players speaks volumes about how good the Sixers' big three (Embiid, Simmons, Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The Laker win was a coming out party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.

This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?

Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

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Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving had 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including two free throws that put Boston ahead in the closing seconds, and the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors 92-88 on Thursday night for their 14th straight victory.

Jaylen Brown had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Al Horford added 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Kevin Durant has 24 points for Golden State. The defending champion Warriors had won seven in a row.

Playing his second game since suffering a facial fracture, Irving shed his protective mask in the second quarter. Then, with the game tied at 88, he was fouled on his layup attempt and calmly made a pair of free throws. Durant then came up empty on his jumper on the other end.

Golden State led by as many as 17, but had to lean heavily on its reserves as its trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant struggled offensively.

Curry, who returned to action after missing a game with a bruised right thigh, was the most ineffective. He was 3 of 14 from the field -- 2 of 9 from the 3-point line -- and had nine points (see full recap).

Harden’s 48 points ignite Rockets’ rout of Suns
PHOENIX -- James Harden had 23 of his 48 points in the second quarter while the Houston Rockets scored 90 points in the first half en route to a 142-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

Houston dominated with Chris Paul back in the lineup after missing 14 games with a knee injury. The Rockets made 61 percent of their first-half shots to get the second-most points in a first half in NBA history.

Houston came up 14 points shy of the franchise record for points in a game. The Rockets knocked down 21 of 44 3-point attempts, and Harden made all 18 of his free throws (see full recap).

Harden, the NBA's leading scorer, had 33 points at halftime. Houston used a 13-1 over the final 3:08 of the first quarter to take control and was never threatened after that, leading 45-23 going into the second.

Paul, who hadn't played since the season opener, got the start and didn't miss a beat, scoring 11 points and handing out 10 assists in limited action.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that getting the two stars, Harden and Paul, in sync will "take care of itself over the next week or so." D'Antoni planned to play Paul for 20 minutes; Paul saw 21 minutes of action and sat out most of the fourth quarter.

Ryan Anderson added 24 points for the Rockets, who have won seven of eight (see full recap).