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John Wall, Bradley Beal catch fire as Wizards take out Sixers in season opener

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John Wall, Bradley Beal catch fire as Wizards take out Sixers in season opener

The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 120-115 in their regular season opener on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.

How it happened: As fun and talented as the upstart Sixers are, with two No. 1 picks making their NBA debuts in Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons and an enigmatic star in Joel Embiid, they didn't have enough on Wednesday night, as the Wizards let their seasoned veterans go to work in the second half to pull out a season-opening victory. 

Bradley Beal and John Wall found their rhythm in the third quarter, helping the Wizards outscore the Sixers 34-23 in the frame. Beal had 11 points and shot 6-for-6 from the free throw line, while Wall put up 14 points. The two combined for 25 of the Wizards' 34 points in the fourth quarter.

Beal finished with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists and Wall with 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds, including this dunk that was pure, unaldurated disrespect:

The Sixers made a push in the fourth quarter, opening the frame with a 13-2 run. But as the quarter continued, the Wizards put on a display of dunks that kept the crowd on their side. Kelly Oubre, Jr. threw down a putback slam on a Beal missed three that helped key a 12-4 run. Marcin Gortat (16 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks) had 10 points in the fourth quarter, several assisted by Wall including a big dunk that inspired a Polish Hammer celebration.

The Wizards were in command in the first quarter, leading by nine at the end of the frame. Otto Porter scored their first eight points on 4-of-5 from the field. But the Sixers charged back, shooting 56 percent in the second quarter to take a three-point lead at halftime.

Robert Covington (surprise) led the Sixers in scoring with 29 points. Simmons (NBA debut) and Embiid each had 18, while Fultz was limited to 10 points in 17 minutes in his first game.

The Sixers cut it to two with a minute left before Jerryd Bayless threw an earrant pass into the hands of Beal. Beal then stole the ball on a save by Otto Porter with 20.5 seconds left. He was fouled and hit one free throw. Philly couldn't answer, as J.J. Redick missed a three from straightaway center.

The Wizards later closed it out at the free throw line with Beal knocking down two with just 2.0 seconds remaining. He went 12-for-16 from the charity stripe for the night. The Wizards shot 30-of-38 from the line, exactly double the attempts Philly got.


What it means: The Wizards are off to a 1-0 start, which is important considering their travel-heavy schedule early on. They want to avoid what happened last year, when they started 2-8, and Wednesday night was a good first step.

Early returns good from bench: It was one game, but the Wizards' bench looked solid, especially considering they are a group depleted by injuries. Jodie Meeks was the offensive spark they signed him to be. He made it look easy with 14 points in 19 minutes. Tim Frazier mainly played the role of distributor with five assists and zero points. Oubre did a little bit of everything with 14 points, seven rebounds and three three-pointers in 32 minutes. He carried a heavy load once Smith went out. Mike Scott scored inside and out and finished with seven points in 14 minutes. 

Gun shy early: Scott Brooks could not have been happy with the Wizards attempting just eight threes as a team in the first half. Beal and Porter combined for one attempt, while Oubre and Wall led the team with two attempts apiece. Brooks wants guys like Beal and Porter to attempt at least five threes a game. It was likely a point of emphasis at halftime, because Beal knocked down a triple just 1:36 into the third quarter. Oubre stole the ball and found Beal, who swished one over Embiid.

Injury news: Jason Smith got the start at power forward, but only played 7:04 before exiting with a sprained right shoulder. He jogged to the locker room with trainers and never returned. This is extra noteworthy considering he was the replacement for Markieff Morris, who is out for several more weeks following sports hernia surgery. He will get an MRI on Thursday, per Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington.

Up next: The Wizards stay home for their second game, hosting the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. That game will be on NBC Sports Washington. After that they head west for a four-game road trip.


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LeBron James admits he's playing too many minutes after Draymond Green pointed it out

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LeBron James admits he's playing too many minutes after Draymond Green pointed it out

With Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose currently injured, LeBron James has had to take on a bigger workload with the Cavaliers. He's leading the NBA in minutes per game (38.1) and that's despite being 32 with his 33rd birthday coming up next month.

The minutes are so high for LeBron that Draymond Green of the Warriors is talking about it to the media. He was interviewed by USA Today recently and said: 

"My concern would be that LeBron is playing so many minutes right now... Yeah, he’s super human but eventually his super human powers go away."


Green is known for speaking his mind and LeBron doesn't always agree with him, but in this case he does. Here is what LeBron told Cleveland.com when he heard Green's comments:

“Draymond’s right... We want to get those minutes down for sure. But as of right now, we’ve had two point guards out and we’ve had some different lineup changes, so, I’ve had to play more minutes than I would like, and more minutes than my teammates would like me to have.”

Meanwhile, LeBron is showing no signs of slowing down. He's averaging 28.3 points, 8.7 assists, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, all while shooting a career-best 57.9 percent from the field. 

Almost 40 minutes per night, however, is way too much and it comes into question how long LeBron can keep this up. Believe it or not, LeBron will slow down at some point and heavy minutes is one way to accelerate that process.

Now that LeBron has acknowledged he's playing too much, it will be interesting to see if Cavs coach Tyronn Lue makes an adjustment. It's not an easy call because the Cavs aren't playing very well right now.


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Sorting through the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference: the Cavs, Celtics, Pistons, Sixers and more

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Sorting through the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference: the Cavs, Celtics, Pistons, Sixers and more

What many assumed about the Eastern Conference this season hasn't quite come to fruition so far.

Despite many stars leaving for the West, the East through one month actually looks improved, with more depth than many predicted.

There are a host of teams with surprise winning records and a few others most believe are better than their current place in the standings. 

Today marks exactly one month since the season began, so let's go around the conference to look at a few of the most surprising teams - either good or bad - and whether they can keep it up.

Celtics are on fire:

The Boston Celtics, despite losing Gordon Hayward on opening night, look even better than they did last year when they earned the No. 1 seed in the East and reached the conference finals. They have the top defense in the NBA and rebound better than anyone. Though their offense ranks as below average, they are scoring enough to win 13 straight games. And when they need offense, Kyrie Irving (20.6 ppg) is a decent guy to turn to.

A big determinant in whether the Celtics can keep this up - they are an NBA-best 13-2 - will be the play of young swingmen Jaylen Brown (14.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Jayson Tatum (14.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Both are scoring and efficiently, but they are young and most young players take time to find consistency. Perhaps they're different, we'll see.

Cavs have stumbled:

The Cavaliers' 8-7 record through 15 games is one of the more surprising developments of the NBA season so far. It has them currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Though that will change, it might be wrong to assume they will get things fully sorted out anytime soon. Their defense is absolutely dreadful. Based on defensive rating, it's the worst in the NBA and even their top-five offense hasn't been enough to offset those issues.

Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson being hurt hasn't helped and Jae Crowder is off to a rough start on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade isn't making a positive impact, even on offense, and the result is LeBron James carrying too heavy of a load. While the new additions have hit the ground running in Boston, that hasn't been the case in Cleveland. The Cavs still have the best player in the world and they will get better, but how much better is hard to tell. 


Are the Pistons legit?:

The most surprising success story within the conference so far has definitely been the Detroit Pistons, who at 10-4 hold the second-best record in the East. Of those 10 wins, they have beaten the Warriors, Timberwolves, Bucks, Pacers and Heat. They are 7-1 at home. 

The Pistons have been a good defensive team for several years running and now they may have a competent enough offense to put it all together. They have the eight-best offensive rating and the seventh-best defensive rating. They are hitting their threes (38.2%, 7th in NBA) and grabbing the second-most offensive rebounds. The biggest difference has come from Tobias Harris (19.6 ppg, 47.5 FG, 50.6 3PT%) who has been playing out of his gourd. Avery Bradley (17.8 ppg, 44.1% 3PT) is putting up career-high numbers. They may take a step back offensively, but the Pistons look like they are here to stay.

Sixers may be a problem:

The early returns in Philly have been quite good. At 8-6, they a competitive team for the first time in years and that's with 10 of their first 14 games coming on the road. Budding star Joel Embiid has played in 12 of their games with some amazing numbers. He's averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 29 minutes per night. On Wednesday, he became the first NBA player ever to have at least 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in a game. The guy does everything well.

Ben Simmons (17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 7.7 apg) has been a revelation and looks like a lock for rookie of the year. Robert Covington (16.5 ppg, 49.5% 3PT) is one of the league's most underrated players. And J.J. Redick (14.8 ppg) is fitting in nicely. So far the Sixers have been among the best NBA teams at three-point shooting and rebounding. What will be interesting to see is how long it takes for them to learn how to win. Can they emerge as true playoff contenders this season, or will it take time? 


Knicks are fun for once:

Much like the Sixers, the New York Knicks are 8-6 despite playing 10 of their first 14 games on the road. Kristaps Porzingis (28.9 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2.2 bpg) is playing like an All-Star. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (17.8 ppg) and Enes Kanter (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg) are adjusting well. Courtney Lee (47.2 3PT%, 3.8 3PA/g) is lighting it up from three.

The Knicks have a couple of impressive wins, one at the Cavs and one against the Nuggets at home, but it's hard to buy what they are selling quite yet. Porzingis may be a generational talent and a thrill to watch, but the Knicks don't have much depth and lottery pick Frank Ntilikina (4.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) looks like a work in progress. Of the surprising NBA teams so far, New York seems to be a good bet to fall back down to Earth and soon.

Magic finally have an offense:

Similar to the Pistons, the Orlando Magic (8-7) are off to a surprising start because their offense is better so far than it has been in years. Evan Fournier (19.7 ppg), Aaron Gordon (17.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Nikola Vucevic (17.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are leading the way. Jonathan Simmons (15.1 ppg) has been a nice free agent pickup so far. They have a winning record despite starting point guard Elfrid Payton having been injured for most of their games.

The way the Magic are scoring, however, suggests it may not be sustainable. Through 15 games, they are shooting ridiculously well from three. Fournier is at 42.9 percent after shooting just 35.6 percent last year. Gordon is at 50 percent from long range, almost double his 28.8 percent last season. Even Vucevic and Simmons, both at 39.4 percent, are hitting threes after never being threats from there before. If they can keep burying teams from the perimeter, then the Magic could remain a factor in the East. But this seems like a team destined for a reality check sometime soon. They have lost five of seven and that pace seems likely to continue.