Brooklyn Nets

Okafor, Stauskas debut for Nets in ugly loss

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Okafor, Stauskas debut for Nets in ugly loss

TORONTO -- Kyle Lowry had his 11th career triple-double, DeMar DeRozan scored 31 points and the Toronto Raptors won their ninth straight meeting with Brooklyn by routing the Nets 120-87 on Friday night.

Serge Ibaka scored 18 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 14 as Toronto won its eighth consecutive home game and improved to 10-1 at Air Canada Centre.

It was the second triple-double of the season for Lowry, who finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Lowry's previous triple-double came against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 27.

Nik Stauskas scored 22 points in his Brooklyn debut and Isaiah Whitehead had 13 for the Nets in their most lopsided defeat of the season. Brooklyn's previous worst loss was a 107-86 blowout at New York on Oct. 27. The Nets lost by more than 14 points for the second time.

Norman Powell and Jakob Poeltl each scored 11 points for the Raptors, who played without forward C.J. Miles (sore left shoulder).

Nets guard Allen Crabbe (sore left knee) and forward DeMarre Carroll (rest) both got the night off. Brooklyn was playing the second game of a back-to-back, and its third in four days.

With Carroll and Crabbe unavailable, Brooklyn's recently acquired duo of Jahlil Okafor and Stauskas made their Nets debuts. Both arrived in a Dec. 8 trade with Philadelphia (see full recap).

Paul, Rockets rout Spurs for 12th straight win
HOUSTON -- Chris Paul had 28 points, eight assists and seven steals to lead the Houston Rockets to their 12th straight victory, a 124-109 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Paul became the first player in NBA history to post 28 points, eight assists and seven steals in a game against the Spurs. In the past 10 years, that stat line has been achieved just 10 times -- Paul has done it six of those times. The Rockets are unbeaten when he plays this season.

Paul's dazzling performance came on a night James Harden had one of his worst 3-point shooting nights of the season, making 6 of 18 from the field, including 2 of 11 from 3. Harden had 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists, scoring half his points on 14-of-16 shooting from the free-throw line.

The Rockets are on the fourth-longest win streak in franchise history and the longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in the 2007-08 season.

All Rockets starters and reserve Eric Gordon had scored in double figures by the end of the third quarter. Clint Capela had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Gordon scored 14 points, Ryan Anderson had 12, and Trevor Ariza added 11 (see full recap).

Gobert, Favors hurt at Jazz still beat Celtics
BOSTON -- Ricky Rubio had 22 points, Donovan Mitchell added 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and the Utah Jazz beat the Boston Celtics 107-95 on Friday night.

Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Hood also finished with 17 points for the Jazz, who snapped a four-game losing streak. It was Utah's first victory in Boston since 2008, a span of nine games.

But the win came at a cost.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert left the game early in the first quarter with a left knee injury after teammate Derrick Favors fell backward into his leg. Gobert was able to walk off the court on his own power, but went straight to the locker room and did not return.

The second quarter brought more injuries. First, Boston's Daniel Theis left with a facial injury. Later, Jaylen Brown of the Celtics caught Favors with an incidental elbow, leaving him bleeding from his left eye and Brown from his elbow. Favors received six stitches and did not return.

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 33 points. Al Horford added 21 points and seven assists (see full recap).

Joel Embiid vows to 'kick [Jahlil Okafor's] a--' 4 times a year

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Joel Embiid vows to 'kick [Jahlil Okafor's] a--' 4 times a year

Joel Embiid wished Jahlil Okafor well following his trade to the Nets as only Embiid does. 

"I made sure to let him know that I was going to kick his a--," Embiid said. "We play them four times a year. I made sure to let him know that every year, four times, I'm going to kick his a--."

A promise of a butt-kicking actually is a sign Embiid cares. He similarly told former teammate Nerlens Noel he was going to "cook his a--" when they faced off as opponents for the first time in November. Embiid, Okafor and Noel all played through the center logjam together. 

"That's my close friend," Embiid said of Okafor. "I was really happy for him and excited." 

The trade also hit close to T.J. McConnell. He had developed such a strong friendship with Nik Stauskas that Stauskas was a groomsman in his wedding this past summer. Okafor also was a guest.

"The kind of ups and downs that me and Nik have gone through, and Jahlil, being here for 10-win seasons and hanging out and just doing what friends do, it's crappy to have two of them go at the same time," McConnell said. "I love those guys to death and I'm going to miss them." 

The Sixers will welcome Trevor Booker when he joins the team. Booker had been in Mexico with the Nets when he was traded to Philadelphia.

First press conference foreshadowed Jahlil Okafor's time with Sixers

First press conference foreshadowed Jahlil Okafor's time with Sixers

It was a seemingly innocuous move. At least that’s what he thought.

Way back on June 28, 2015, Jahlil Okafor was introduced in Philadelphia after being drafted with the No. 3 overall pick. When the press conference was over, Okafor quickly dropped his jersey onto the stage and turned to walk away.

The reaction to the optics was way worse than the scene in reality. But in the end, the moment served as a precursor to Okafor’s time in the city: from the excitement of oozing potential to simply being discarded.

Okafor came to the Sixers with great fanfare. While he was the latest center to be selected in the lottery by the team, he brought certain elements that Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel did not.

First, Okafor had the polish. Noel, and especially Embiid, offered their own offensive gifts entering the league, but the 6-foot-11, 275-pounder was different. He was the old-school big man with the huge hands, swift feet and soft touch in the paint.

“Someone that can draw a double-team, and we don’t see those a lot in our league right now. We don’t see a lot … someone that can draw a double-team is enormously useful. Enormously useful,” former Sixers exec Sam Hinkie said of Okafor in June 2015. “That’s one of the things he can do. Someone that has hands that are as good as his, that can catch every ball thrown his way, that can do all sorts of things in the post, that can be a pick-and-roll player like that. That’s hard to find. That’s really hard to find, which is why you’ll hear people that have coached him and you’ll hear people that have been around him rave about him. We feel very excited to be able to take him.”

Then there was the pedigree. Okafor was an absolute winner. From city and state titles as a star at Whitney Young High School in his native Chicago to the 2015 national championship at Duke, Okafor reached the mountaintop at every level of basketball.

“Winning has always been my main focus,” Okafor said prior to his rookie season. “I have always hated losing. I am a sore loser. I do not take losing well. I have always been about winning because I have been winning my entire life.”

Perhaps the best thing Okafor had going for him was health. With Embiid and Noel missing seasons because of injuries, Okafor was ready to suit up from Day 1. 

And things were good for the big man at the start — well, besides that whole wanting to win thing. Okafor recorded 17.5 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 blocks per game during his first professional season en route to being named first-team All-Rookie.

While those numbers are all well and good, this is Philadelphia. Even low-post players that aren't centers learn to play with a certain oomph. The big man is simply held to a higher standard in the home of Center City.

After all, this is where Dolph Schayes pounded the glass. It’s where Wilt Chamberlain took steps toward becoming the GOAT. It’s where Bobby Jones hustled his way into fans’ hearts and Billy Cunningham leaped to one rebound after another.

This is the city where Caldwell Jones terrorized opponents, Moses Malone intimidated foes in the paint and Darryl Dawkins hammered rims into oblivion. 

It’s where an undersized power forward named Charles Barkley made people realize why he was called “The Round Mound of Rebound.” This is the town where Rick Mahorn and Derrick Coleman played with that beloved nastiness. This is the town where Theo Ratliff swatted shots out of the sky and Dikembe Mutombo followed suit with that signature finger wag.

So while Okafor caught the locals’ attention with all of the pretty spin moves and drop steps for buckets, it was always going to be the grit, or lack thereof, that let Philadelphia know who he really was on the floor.

A deeper look revealed everything you needed to see. Okafor capped that rookie season with an average of 7.0 boards a night, but 17 times in 53 games that year he ended with five rebounds or less. 

Then there’s the defense. Forget not being good enough on the defensive end of the floor, Okafor couldn’t even be bothered. I mean, remember this:

He has a defensive rating of 110.0 per 100 possessions for his career. In other words, teams score 110 points for every 100 possessions Okafor is on the court.

“I have to make him holistic and point out defensive flaws,” Brown said in January 2016. “That’s my job, especially when you beat your chest and carry a flag about playing defense in this city. You can’t hide from anything.”

Okafor couldn’t hide anymore. Not from attacking opponents, fans’ criticism or even his own doubt about his skill set.

Throw in the off-court issues from that rookie season, including a Boston street fight and speeding across the Ben Franklin Bridge, and the writing was on the wall for Okafor. 

Then came the long-awaited and sensational play of fellow center Embiid last season and the writing was all over every single wall Okafor was forced to look at inside the Wells Fargo Center and the Sixers’ training complex.

Sure, the Sixers bungled the ending. They sent him home last season when they thought a trade was imminent only to be forced to bring him back into the fold when the deal fell apart. Then the organization had Okafor go through yet another offseason with the squad only to decline to pick up the fourth-year option on his contract.

“Honestly, I didn't want them to pick up my option,” Okafor said last month. “I’ve been going through a lot since I've been here. So the fact that I know that at the end of the season I would at least have an opportunity to play elsewhere, that's great. Now I'm just in a position to where, how can I get on the court? That's not happening here. I want to play.”

It’s all water under the bridge now — more specifically the Brooklyn Bridge — after the Sixers dealt Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick to the Nets for Trevor Booker.

Now Okafor gets a second chance to prove he was worth all of the buzz entering the NBA. Hopefully, for him, he doesn’t get quickly discarded yet again like that jersey from his introductory press conference.