NBA

Irving returns as Nets snap three-game skid against Pacers, Jokic triple-double as Nuggets lose

By Sports Desk January 06, 2022

Kyrie Irving scored 22 points upon his return to the Brooklyn Nets side for the first time this season as they came from behind to beat the Indiana Pacers 129-121 and snap a three-game skid on Wednesday.

Irving had been ruled out of the entire regular season by the Nets due to his vaccination status but the franchise changed their stance a fortnight ago, permitting him to play road games.

The 29-year-old point guard played 32 minutes, making nine-of-17 from the field along with three rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Irving's return reunited the 'big three' alongside Kevin Durant (39 points, eight rebounds and seven assists) and James Harden (18 points, five rebounds and six assists).

The Pacers had led 73-60 at half-time with a biggest lead of 19 points before Brooklyn rallied with an 8-0 run to end the third quarter, before Patty Mills put them ahead with a fourth-quarter three-pointer.

Domantas Sabonis recorded a triple-double for the Pacers with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

Popovich brings up 2,000th in style

Gregg Popovich coached the San Antonio Spurs for the 2,000th time, recording his 1,325th win in charge as they beat the Boston Celtics 97-95 with Jaylen Brown's lay-up buzzer beater rimming out. Brown scored 30 points with six rebounds, while Dejounte Murray had 22 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists for the Spurs.

Bojan Bogdanovic (36 points, 13 rebounds and four assists) won the battle of the Balkan stars against Nikola Jokic as the Utah Jazz edged the Denver Nuggets 115-109. The reigning MVP was exceptional for the Nugs with 26 points, 21 rebounds and 11 assists.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 116-106, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was absent with a non-COVID-related illness as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 117-111 to the Toronto Raptors with Pascal Siakam netting 33 points.

 

Curry goes cold for Warriors

Stephen Curry had an ordinary shooting night, going five-of-24 from the field and one-of-nine from beyond the arc as the Golden State Warriors lost 99-82 to the Dallas Mavericks. Curry finished with 14 points with nine rebounds while Mavs All-Star Luka Doncic had 26 points with seven rebounds and eight assists.

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  • Irving fined $25,000 for using obscene language towards fan Irving fined $25,000 for using obscene language towards fan

    Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kyrie Irving has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing obscene language toward a fan.

    The NBA announced the fine on Thursday with the incident occurring in the second quarter of Monday's 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Irving responded with obscene language to a fan who could be heard heckling the 29-year-old former Cavaliers point guard. He said: “Got y’all a championship and m***********s still ungrateful.”

    Nets teammate Kevin Durant along with New York Knicks' Julius Randle have also been fined for obscene language this season as the NBA attempts to crack down on the use of profanity.

    Irving was making his fifth appearance in the NBA this season, due to his vaccination status which meant he could not play home games in New York City, with the Nets not wanting him on a part-time basis. The Nets reversed that decision last month, allowing him to play in road games.

    Irving has averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists since his return this season.

  • Sacramento sadness: Why the Kings cannot afford to do nothing Sacramento sadness: Why the Kings cannot afford to do nothing

    Professional sports are usually cyclical with teams rising and falling at one point or another. Some franchises, however, seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of nothingness.

    That is where the Sacramento Kings have resided for far too long. 

    The Kings own the NBA's longest active playoff drought at 15 seasons with the next closest team (Charlotte Hornets) at just five years. At 18-29 and 11th in the Western Conference, it doesn't appear likely that Sacramento will end that run of futility this year with the 16-season drought becoming the longest in NBA history. The Clippers went 15 seasons without a playoff appearance from 1977-1992.

    Those Clippers at least had a winning season during their dearth of postseason basketball, going 43-39 in 1978-79. The Kings' best record in their sad stretch was 39-43 in 2018-19. Sacramento's last winning season came in 2005-06 (44-38), at the end of a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances that included the league's best record in 2001-02 (61-21). 

    That success must seem like a century ago to the Kings' beaten-down fanbase.

    The Kings have been something of a vagabond franchise throughout their history, starting as the Rochester Royals in 1948 and winning their only championship two seasons later. 

    The team moved to Cincinnati in 1957-58 and then was shifted to Kansas City-Omaha in 1972, when they were renamed the Kings. Finally, they became the fourth NBA team in the state of California with the move to Sacramento in 1985. 

    Over the last five seasons, including the current one, the Kings rank 24th in winning percentage (.411). Trailing them are Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Orlando, all teams that have experienced the playoffs in that span except for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls who are headed there this season. 

    That Sacramento have only been moderately awful lately is one of the franchise's biggest problems. While other teams have bottomed out and rebuilt (Cavaliers, Hawks and Bulls), the Kings have wallowed near the bottom without much of a plan to lead them back to their long-forgotten glory days.

    There is a myriad of reasons why the Kings have been unable to reach the playoffs since George Walker Bush was in the White House, but chief among them is an 11-man coaching carousel.

    David Joerger (2016-17-2018-19) coached the most games in that span (246) and had the most wins (98), recently fired Luke Walton had the best winning percentage (.422) and Kenny Natt had the worst (.190).

    Walton was fired on November 21, 2021, after a 6-11 start and a 68-93 record, and replaced on an interim basis by Alvin Gentry. That move hasn't provided much of a spark with Sacramento going 12-18 under Gentry.

    While coaching, of course, plays a major role in any team's fortunes, players are truly what defines a franchise. Because impact free agents aren't flocking to Sacramento the way they do to Los Angeles or Miami, the Kings must hit on their draft picks, and they simply have had too many misses. 

    It can be unfair to look at a specific team's drafts and pick apart what they should or shouldn't have done in hindsight, but in Sacramento's case, the misses have contributed to a lack of stars and therefore success.

    The most egregious mistake came in 2018, when the Kings picked Marvin Bagley III second right before Dallas selected Luka Doncic and three picks before Trae Young went to Atlanta. While Bagley is a decent player, he's never averaged more than 14.9 points and is down to 9.4 this season as a part-time starter.

    Doncic, meanwhile, was a star right from the jump and has ascended into one of the greatest players of his generation, while Young's career has followed a similar path. 

    Other big blunders were taking Thomas Robinson fifth overall in 2012, one spot ahead of Damian Lillard, choosing Nick Stauskas eighth in 2014 instead of Zach LaVine, who went 14th to Minnesota, and picking Willie Cauley-Stein sixth the following year while Devin Booker lasted until pick number 13. 

    Scoring points hasn't been a big problem for the Kings over the years, ranking 10th in points per game (103.5) since 2006-07. The opposite end of the court is where they have failed. During that span, Sacramento is last in defensive scoring (107.6), 29th in opponent field-goal percentage (47.0) and 29th in opponent three-point percentage (36.5).

    Even more so than the defensive failures, the Kings have lacked an identity for what seems like forever. It's impossible to say what exactly is Kings basketball and what is it supposed to look like. The lack of star power, draft misses and a never-ending run of coaches has largely been responsible for that.

    The franchise's best player over the past decade and a half was DeMarcus Cousins, selected fifth overall in 2010. Cousins wasn't only the Kings' best player for several years but was among the league's elite for a while, particularly from 2014-17 before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in July 2017.

    From 2014-2017, over a 196-game span, Cousins ranked fifth in the NBA in both scoring (26.1) and rebounding (11.7) while also adding 3.9 assists and 1.47 blocks with five triple-doubles. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team in consecutive seasons (2014-15, 2015-16) and was an All-Star in three straight years. 

    Cousins, though, had several incidents with the Kings, including being suspended from the team for unprofessional behaviour and conduct detrimental to the team in 2012. By 2017, the relationship had run its course and he was traded to the Pelicans for three players and two draft picks. Buddy Hield remains from that deal and the 2017 first-round pick turned into Zach Collins, who was dealt to Portland. 

    The best player on the current Kings is De'Aaron Fox, who is in his fifth season with the team after he was drafted five picks before Collins. 

    Fox had a breakout campaign in 2020-21 with 25.2 points and 7.2 assists but has dropped off to 21.0 points and 5.2 assists this season while his three-point percentage is down to a career-worst 24.8.

    Fox has a world of talent but has been plagued by inconsistency, and his disappointing play surely played a role in Walton's firing. The idea of trading him for a package of picks and players can't be completely dismissed anymore.

    Trading Fox would signal that the Kings are ready to do a complete rebuild, and if that was the case, why not also deal Bagley, Harrison Barnes and others?

    Second-year point guard Tyrese Haliburton has a very bright future and rookie guard Davion Mitchell has elite defensive skills, but neither is ready to lead a team without ample veteran help. Hield is a terrific shooter but doesn’t offer a whole lot more so likely has more value on a contending team. 

    The Kings are at a crossroads right now because they aren't competing for championships anytime soon and even making the playoffs soon seems unlikely. It could be time for a total rebuild similar to what Detroit and Houston are doing now, but that could be a hard sell for a fanbase that hasn't seen a playoff game in forever. 

    With the franchise teetering on the edge of basketball irrelevance, the worst thing the Kings could do now is nothing. Continuing down the same path would be foolish, and general manager Monte McNair, who has only held the position since September 2020, needs to go in a discernible direction to end the perennial losing.

  • Bulls guard Lonzo Ball out for up to eight weeks Bulls guard Lonzo Ball out for up to eight weeks

    Lonzo Ball will be out for up to eight weeks after he undergoes knee surgery this week, the Chicago Bulls announced on Thursday. 

    After sitting out the past three games, the decision has been made for Ball to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee – reportedly to repair a torn meniscus. 

    A statement from the Bulls read: "Following an initial period of rest and targeted intervention, Bulls guard Lonzo Ball will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is expected to return in 6-8 weeks." 

    Ball is averaging 13 points, 5.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls this season. 

    Chicago were 6-2 in the eight games Ball has missed this campaign, all of which have come since Boxing Day. 

    The Bulls ended a four-game losing streak against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. 

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