Boston Celtics

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

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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."

Sixers-Celtics preseason observations: Markelle Fultz solid in return

Sixers-Celtics preseason observations: Markelle Fultz solid in return

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BOSTON — The Sixers’ first preseason road game ended in a 113-96 loss to the Celtics at TD Garden on Monday night. 

The shorthanded Celtics, playing without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, easily defeated the Sixers, who trailed by 17 in the first quarter. 

• The Sixers wanted to see Markelle Fultz in different situations other than just at starting shooting guard. Fultz came off the bench in his second game (he missed Friday because of right shoulder soreness). Brett Brown played him at point guard with and without Ben Simmons.

Fultz said while his shoulder soreness is “on and on,” he is not using it as an excuse nor did it hold him back from shooting threes.

• Both Fultz and Simmons attacked the rim instead of taking jumpers. Simmons (6 for 12 from the field, 3 for 10 from the line) scored all of his field goals at the basket, as displayed on the NBA.com shot chart. Fultz (5 for 11 from the field) knocked down a shot just outside the paint. 

Brown is encouraging both players to drive to the basket.

“I like them attacking people and putting pressure on the defense, and hopefully getting to the line and maybe shooting a little bit better than we did tonight,” Brown said.

It remains to be seen how long that shot selection continues during the season. Players like JJ Redick could benefit from their kick-outs, but the team will also need its backcourt duo to mix up the offense and take outside shots before it becomes repetitious and opponents can game plan for that attack. 

• Jahlil Okafor got the start at center. He’s made the most of his opportunities so far in preseason. Okafor grabbed five rebounds (and six each the previous two games) after averaging 4.8 last season and hit 3 of 4 from the field for six points.

“I’m just trying to find my rhythm,” Okafor said.

• Dario Saric made his preseason debut after sitting out the first two games. He had been playing and practicing internationally up until a week before training camp and the Sixers wanted him to rest ahead of the regular season. He got the chance to shake off rust by playing 20 minutes (nine points, seven rebounds). Saric, who was disappointed to miss the 82-game mark last season, said this rest was beneficial for him. 

• Richaun Holmes does not expect to require surgery on his fractured left wrist. He described the fracture as “small” and believes it will heal on its own. Holmes is aiming to return sooner than the three-week re-evaluation mark. He fell on his wrist during a foul in Friday’s loss to the Celtics. 

Sixers test Ben Simmons' defensive versatility in loss to Celtics

Sixers test Ben Simmons' defensive versatility in loss to Celtics

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Ben Simmons is not letting himself off the hook for his mistakes. 

After assessing his performance in the preseason opener a seven out of 10, he cracked down on his errors in the Sixers’ 110-102 loss to the Celtics on Friday (see observations).

“Tonight, six or five,” Simmons graded himself. “Too many turnovers, obviously, too many offensive fouls on (Aron) Baynes.”

Simmons committed a game-high five turnovers, compared to just one against the Grizzlies. He accounted for over 20 percent of the team’s total 24 giveaways. Simmons’ early foul trouble (four total) factored into that. He was whistled for two offensive fouls against Baynes while trying to score on the big man at the basket. 

“We’ve got to continue to grow the jump stop, avoiding the collision and coming into a maybe more controlled environment,” Brett Brown said. 

Simmons scored eight points in 23 minutes (see highlights). He shot 3 for 8 from the field and struggled at the line (2 for 6). Brown is encouraging Simmons to shoot more jumpers throughout the preseason.

The Sixers are learning something new about Simmons each game. On Friday, they studied how he matches up defending smaller players. Simmons started the game on power forward Jayson Tatum. He switched to small forward Gordon Hayward, shooting guard Jaylen Brown and was later tasked with standout point guard Kyrie Irving. 

There was a seven-inch height differential between Irving and Simmons, not to mention six years of experience, four All-Star appearances and an NBA championship. 

“It was good to be matched up against a great point guard like him and get a feel for that,” Simmons said. 

Irving noticed areas of improvement for Simmons in that matchup. The 2011 No. 1 pick also saw potential in his 2016 counterpart. 

“It’s going to be an adjustment [for Simmons],” Irving said. “Understanding that when he’s at the point guard role and he’s there, he’s going to be going against some dynamic players, including myself. 

“He did an incredible job of running the team tonight. He’s a great young player. He’s going to continue to get better. Coach Brown’s putting the ball in his hands, so when you have the ball in your hands, you’re able to make some decisions. But on the defensive end, it’s our job to take advantage of that.” 

Simmons could get another look at these same matchups in a matter of a few days. The Sixers play the Celtics again on Monday in Boston.