76ers

Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

slideshow-021313-nuggets-iguodala-ap.jpg

Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

NEW YORK -- It’s been a season filled with adjustments for the 76ers. Just when they were preparing to adjust to life with a superstar player as the focus of the team, the plan changed.

Instead, the Sixers have spent the 2012-13 season adjusting to life without their superstar, Andrew Bynum.

The season has been one of adjustments for a bunch of the players involved in the four-team trade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has seen his every turn treated as part of the daily soap opera that is the Lakers. Even the tiniest minutia of Howard’s relationship with new teammate Kobe Bryant is fodder for public debate. It’s gotten to the point that even Howard’s father is approached by reporters to weigh in on what’s going on with his son and the Lakers.

For Andre Iguodala, the longtime Sixer and 2011-12 All-Star who was the key piece in the acquisition of Bynum, it’s been a season of adjustments, too. However, the difference in Iguodala’s case is that all of the adjustments he’s had to make have been basketball-related.

“That’s been the story of the season so far,” Iguodala said before Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nuggets and Nets at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I’ve had to adjust to my new teammates and adjust to the attitude and things like that. It’s all been good though because we’ve been winning ball games and that makes everything easier.”

Because there are just a dozen or so players in the locker room for every game, personnel changes can have a major impact on a team. And given how the last few months have been a whirlwind for Iguodala, the adjustment period may last a bit longer than it would for other players. Plus, Iguodala, who sat out of Wednesday’s game with a stiff neck, has always been different from the typical pro athlete. Rarely is a question given a simple yes or no answer because to Iguodala, things are much more complicated than yes or no. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer.

That’s the same way for when he plays, too.

“He’s a very cerebral player,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said. “He probably thinks too much and he probably worries too much.”

It’s never easy …
Could Iguodala ever lighten up? Is it too much to ask? Once, shortly after the Heat eliminated the Sixers during the 2010-11 playoffs, Iguodala was asked, point blank, if he wanted to play for the Sixers the following season. Instead of saying, “yes” or “no,” Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. I’m really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. I’m looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

“I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.”

Of course, Iguodala did return to the Sixers in 2011-12 and that’s when the whirlwind began. Last year at this stage of the season he was headed to Orlando for his first All-Star Game. This year, even though some of his statistics are more impressive, Iguodala is going to the All-Star Game to participate in the NBPA annual meeting in his role as the Nuggets’ player representative.

Then again, maybe it’s fitting that such a “cerebral player” and worrywart would be traded hours before the biggest basketball game of his life at the tail end of his most successful season.

First came the All-Star Game and then, a couple of months later, Iguodala led the No. 8-seeded Sixers to an upset victory over the top-seeded Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It was Iguodala’s two foul shots with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 that gave the series its dramatic crescendo.

That led to a nearly as dramatic seven-game series in the Eastern semifinals in which Iguodala’s defense nearly helped the Sixers to another upset. The Sixers’ unlikely playoff run was followed by a berth on the U.S. Olympic team and a gold medal in the games in London.

But in the middle of playing for the gold for the red, white and blue, during warmups before the semifinals game, Iguodala was told that he had been traded.

Fitting in with Denver
Since then, Iguodala has tried to relax and to fit in. Playing for the Denver Nuggets, apparently, is a bit different than playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. In Denver, Iguodala said, he’s been trying to teach himself to be calm and to relax and even to let his guard down sometimes.

After eight years of playing in Philadelphia, relaxing just might be Iguodala’s biggest adjustment.

“It’s different. You catch yourself being too guarded at times, especially when dealing with the media when you’re always on guard,” Iguodala said. “But it’s a lot friendlier [in Denver] than it was in Philly. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, ‘Just have fun with it.’ I don’t have to be so defensive all the time. Then with the fans, it’s different. In Philly they are a lot more passionate and up in your face and in Denver they’re calm and collected and they’re enjoying themselves.”

Iguodala is enjoying the basketball, too. At 33-21, the Nuggets have won nine out of their last 12 and 15 out of their last 20 games after Wednesday night’s first-half finale at the Barclays Center against the Nets. With Karl’s uptempo offense, the Nuggets have scored at least 97 points in 21 straight games and have the third-best scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 105 points per game.

Part of that has to do with the Nuggets’ running style and their ability to hit the offensive glass. Headed into Wednesday’s game, the Nuggets led the NBA with an average of nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game.

But mostly the Nuggets’ success has to do with what Iguodala brings to the team. Though they surrender 101-plus points per game, the Nuggets’ offense is fueled by their defense. They lead the NBA in rebounding, which is the perfect way to start a fast break, and also are second in steals, third in blocks and second in creating turnovers.

Karl says his team wouldn’t be nearly as good without Iguodala.

“We brought him in to bolster up our defense and I think he’s turned us into a good defensive team -- not a great defensive team,” Karl said. “It’s a luxury to have a guy like [Iguodala] that you can put on any player from a two, a three or a four, and feel pretty confident that you don’t have to help all the time.”

Then again, the Nuggets’ style of play has been another adjustment for Iguodala to get used to, too. In Philadelphia, the offense usually flowed through Iguodala. The Sixers ran when they could, otherwise they slowed things down and tried to win the battle in the halfcourt.

But in Denver the plan is to attack and attack and when the Nuggets finish with that, they want to attack some more.

“It’s different than the East where it was more … controlled,” Iguodala said, choosing his words carefully. “It’s not in a bad way. That style was good for me, so now I have to adjust to it. It’s just two different styles and I’m getting used to it -- I’m picking it up.”

Karl is pretty sure that Iguodala will be instrumental for the Nuggets as the season progresses. By the time the playoffs roll around, that adjustment period should be complete.

“I’m confident and satisfied with what we’ve gotten out of him and I’m excited about what he’ll give us in the second half,” Karl said.

In the meantime, Iguodala is doing his best to fit in. The offense doesn’t flow through him in Karl’s no-stars credo. In fact, Karl’s style might just be the perfect fit for Iguodala. Still, it just might take some time to get used to.

“Everything is a tough adjustment in its own little way,” Iguodala said. “With my teammates it’s been good because I have a good relationship with everyone here. The situation was a little better in Philly because I had been there for seven or eight years and I could control the environment. Guys knew certain things and I didn’t have to tell them things twice. That’s the only real thing that’s different here, so you have to build that. It’s not going to happen over night.”

No, nothing ever comes easy for Iguodala. It just looks that way. But in a season of big adjustments for a lot of teams, it’s Iguodala that might be headed in the best direction.

Sixers-Celtics thoughts: Blockbuster trade subjects highlight home opener vs. Celtcis

sixers-game-note-slide-1020.jpg
USA Today Images/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers-Celtics thoughts: Blockbuster trade subjects highlight home opener vs. Celtcis

Sixers (0-1) vs. Celtics (0-2)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app. Pregame Live at 6. 

The Sixers (0-1) lost their season opener to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday in a fashion that has become quite familiar in reason years.

The Sixers stood toe-to-toe with the Wiz for most of the night, fell behind late, and then made a run in the final minutes only to come up short in a 120-115 defeat.

While an admirable effort against one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams, JJ Redick made it clear that moral victories are no longer acceptable (see story).

Now the Sixers are ready to host the Boston Celtics in front of what is expected to be a raucous crowd for their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center (see story).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• What was all that chatter about a minutes restriction? Joel Embiid went well over what was expected to be his allotted time limit in the season opener when he played 26:57.

Afterward, both Embiid and Sixers head coach Brett Brown explained that this season, the center’s minutes will be within more of a “range” and follow a “plan.” Essentially, how much the big man plays will depend on his stamina and the flow of the game.

Embiid managed 18 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in the opener. However, he admitted there were areas that need improvement (he did commit four turnovers and was late on some defensive rotations).

• You had to like what you saw from Ben Simmons against the Wizards. He scored 18 points on 7 of 15 shooting to go along with 10 boards, five assists, two steals, one block and a single turnover.

More importantly, the point guard played with poise and conviction as he set up the Sixers’ offense.

Sixers fans might not like the fact that several of the team’s young players have missed what would have been their rookie seasons. However, there is something to be said about the advancement of a guy that has been around an NBA team for an entire year before playing a game.

• Before we get any further, let’s hope for a speedy and healthy recovery for Gordon Hayward.

By now you know the All-Star forward suffered a gruesome leg injury just minutes into his Celtics' debut.

The C’s will certainly miss his production and leadership this season.

• With Hayward now sidelined, there has been even more attention focused on Kyrie Irving’s transition to the Celtics. 

The star point guard started with a much-hyped return to face his former Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving played well in that one with a double-double of 22 points and 10 assists, but he couldn’t connect on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

Irving followed that effort up with a dud in a loss to the Bucks. He scored 17 points on a rough 7 of 25 shooting, in addition to just three assists and three turnovers.

The Sixers can expect the scoring machine to try and regain his offensive rhythm right from the opening tip.

• Hey, remember when the Sixers and Celtics made a blockbuster trade involving multiple first-round picks and it was all anyone could talk about? Yeah, seems like forever ago now.

Just before June’s draft, the Sixers sent the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder to the Celtics in exchange for the No. 1 selection. The Sixers took that opportunity to select Markelle Fultz while Boston snagged Jayson Tatum, and the rest is history.

Well, much-scrutinized history. The two rookies will forever be linked and their production compared.

After an injury-filled offseason and camp, Fultz acquitted himself well in his debut. He shot 5 for 9 from the field for 10 points with three rebounds, an assist and a highlight block. Of course, there were also those awkward looking free throws (see story).

On the other side, Tatum has had it about as rough as possible in his first pair of NBA games when it comes to matchups. He started off with LeBron James in the Celtics’ opener before coming back the next night and facing Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

That hasn’t been the best experience defensively, as both James and Antetokounmpo went off. But few men on the planet can handle those players.

Tatum has been productive in his first two games, particularly on the backboard. He’s gobbled up an impressive 22 rebounds to pair with 22 points in two games.

With Fultz playing limited minutes off the bench, it would appear Tatum has the upper hand when it comes to opportunity. But we’ll see what the No. 1 pick has in store for his first regular-season game in front of the home fans.

• Robert Covington made sure that you won’t forget about him this season.

In search of a contract extension, Covington opened the 2017-18 season with a 29-point outburst against the Wizards that included seven threes. 

We’ll see what he can do for an encore.

• The Sixers took one of the four matchups last season with the top-seeded Celtics. Their lone win came in the final meeting, a 105-99 victory on March 19. Dario Saric led the way in that one with 23 points.

Best of NBA: Clippers spoil Lonzo Ball's debut in rout of Lakers

uspresswire-clippers-patrick-beverley.jpg
USA Today Imagesd

Best of NBA: Clippers spoil Lonzo Ball's debut in rout of Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin scored 29 points, DeAndre Jordan added 14 points and 24 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Clippers spoiled Lonzo Ball's quiet NBA debut with a 108-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Lou Williams added 12 points in the Clippers' first game since Chris Paul spurned the perennial playoff team after six years and forced an offseason trade to Houston. The Clippers will have a new look this season, but they were still miles ahead of their Staples Center co-tenants in both teams' season openers.

Ball had three points, four assists and nine rebounds in 29 minutes during the first game for the No. 2 overall pick from UCLA.

The Los Angeles-area native is expected to revitalize his hometown team this season, but the rookie started out with all the nerves and mistakes that might be expected from any 19-year-old point guard with the weight of a 16-time NBA champion franchise on his slender shoulders. Along with a handful of good-looking passes and a 3-pointer late in the first half, he went 1 for 6 from the field and committed two turnovers.

Brook Lopez scored 20 points in his debut for the Lakers, and Jordan Clarkson added 18.

Patrick Beverley, acquired in Paul's trade to the Rockets, had 10 points in his Clippers debut while introducing Ball to high-level NBA defense (see full recap).

Thunder debut new Big 3 in win over Knicks
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook had a triple-double and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New York Knicks 105-84 on Thursday night in their first regular-season game with All-Star additions Paul George and Carmelo Anthony

Westbrook, the NBA MVP last season when he averaged a triple-double, had with 21 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds.

Paul George, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Indiana Pacers, led the Thunder with 28 points. Anthony, who was traded from the Knicks to the Thunder right before training camp began, had 22 points against his former team.

Kristaps Porzingis had 31 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks. Enes Kanter, who joined the Knicks in the deal that sent Anthony to the Thunder, finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. No other New York players scored in double figures.

George broke away for a dunk as time expired in the first half to give the Thunder a 53-42 lead. Porzingis scored 19 points before the break to keep the Knicks in it.

Kanter made three buckets early in the third quarter to keep the Knicks in it, but Westbrook found Steven Adams and Andre Roberson for back-to-back alley-oop dunks to give the Thunder a 69-52 lead.

After that, it was time for the Westbrook triple-double watch. He reached double digits in points and assists midway through the third quarter. He grabbed his 10th rebound with about four minutes remaining in the game (see full recap).

Raptors cruise past Bulls in season opener
TORONTO -- Jonas Valanciunas had 23 points and 15 rebounds, C.J. Miles scored 22 points in his Toronto debut and the Raptors beat the short-handed Chicago Bulls 117-101 on Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.

Norman Powell added 15 points, Delon Wright had 13, and Kyle Lowry 12.

The Raptors, who intend to shoot more 3-pointers and move the ball more this season, were 13 of 29 from long range and had 26 assists on 39 baskets. Lowry had nine assists, and DeMar DeRozan and Wright each had five.

Miles was 6 for 9 from 3-point range and had five rebounds.

Playmaking proved an effective avenue for DeRozan on a night when he made just two of nine field goals and did not attempt a 3-pointer. DeRozan finished with 11 points, going 7 for 8 at the free throw line, and had six rebounds.

Chicago center Robin Lopez scored 18 points, rookie Lauri Markkanen had 17 in his NBA debut, and Justin Holiday added 15.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said forward Nikola Mirotic is doing OK but is still sore two days after suffering facial fractures and a concussion in a practice fight with teammate Bobby Portis. Chicago suspended Portis for eight games following the altercation. Mirotic is expected to be out from four to six weeks (see full recap).