However, Sixers star big man Joel Embiid knows the team on the other side of the court won’t be the usual Celtics squad he’s seen in recent years, with Boston reshaping its roster.
Both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford left the Celtics in the offseason, moves that stung even more with both players going to Eastern Conference contenders — Irving to the Nets and Horford joining Embiid on the Sixers. In an attempt to fill the void, Boston signed guard Kemba Walker, but as Embiid put it, the Celtics lost ‘a lot.’
“I feel like this year is going to be different,” Embiid told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “They lost a lot and we got one of theirs, which was a big piece for them. They also added a great player in Kemba. We are going to see how it goes but I’m interested in the matchup. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to come out on top.”
Embiid said he was shocked by the shakeup from a team that finished with 49 wins a year ago.
“I was surprised,” Embiid said. “Boston let one of their key guys go, to their rivals, and then also lost another guy that was good for them.”
Joel Embiid Will Miss Jimmy Butler in Clutch Time
The Sixers did not go without their losses this offseason, as All-Star Jimmy Butler moved on to Miami. Embiid and Butler built a strong bond after Philly traded for Butler in November of last year.
“It was a big loss. Me and him, we got to the point where we were really close. That’s my guy — my brother forever,” Embiid said. “I wish he was on the team because I feel the relationship I built with him could have gone a long way. Now it puts me in the situation where I’m going to love it. I have to take over.”
Motivated by Playoff Heartbreak, Joel Embiid ‘Tougher’
Embiid came into the season lighter and more focused on self-preservation for a deep playoff run. Much of his motivation came from watching Kawhi Leonard sink a miracle shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Cameras caught Embiid crying on his way to the locker room, something he said he was roasted for when he went back home this offseason.
“It’s the competitive spirit of me. I actually went back home this summer and they made fun of me. Africans we are tough — we don’t cry, we don’t mess around or whatever. They were still making fun of me. They were saying ‘You can’t cry. You are African We’re tougher than this.’”
“I still think about it,” he added. “I knew it was a motivation for me to work harder.”
The Sixers are 6-point favorites for the contest against the Celtics and the total is set a 214. Boston has won seven of the last three, but as Embiid points out, the matchup is much different than in year’s past.
You all remember what happened on Nov. 12, 2018 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
At the end of regulation and just before overtime, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant got into a verbal altercation on the Warriors’ bench.
Golden State ultimately suspended Draymond (without pay) for one game, and everybody in the basketball world talked about the incident for weeks, if not longer.
The 2017 Defensive Player of the Year and Warriors general manager Bob Myers were recently guests on “The Woj Pod” with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and Myers asked Draymond how he feels today about what happened over 11 months ago.
“I just had to accept the fact that I was wrong,” the three-time NBA champion said. “And once I was able to get over my stubbornness and accept the fact that I was wrong, I was able to move on. I had to just have a deep talk with myself, like ‘You were wrong.’
“What they (the Warriors) did was actually the right thing. Do I think it could have been handled better? I think there were other ways to handle it. But nonetheless, something had to happen.”
Myers then offered his perspective.
“When Steve [Kerr] and I sat with Draymond, the hardest part was thinking what he just said. He thinks he doesn’t know me and that I’ve changed. We do know each other pretty well. And I could see his wheels turning like, ‘Oh really? You’re done with me, too?’ And we didn’t talk. He wouldn’t speak to me.
“The only way I can go to bed after that decision was I thought what we did was right. Whatever the hell happens after that … whatever lands on you lands on you.”
Draymond then shifted the conversation to his relationship with KD.
“The thing that bothered me most was I lost his trust,” the three-time All-Star said. “How do I get that back? Not so we can win a championship or we can win some games — but I actually loved this guy, that’s really my brother. And so not knowing what’s next in our relationship bothered me way more.
“Bob and Steve they told me, ‘You need to apologize to Kevin,’ before I got suspended. And I said, ‘No, I’m not apologizing because y’all telling me to apologize. I’m not gonna do that.’ And I didn’t.
“And I never apologized to him until I came to grips with myself. I could kind of see a look in my brother’s face that I have not seen. He’s hurt. How do I fix that? And that was what bothered me more than anything.”
Irving has 50 points in Brooklyn debut, Nets fall to Wolves
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving scored 50 points in a record-setting Nets debut, but lost his balance and missed a potential winning shot that allowed the Minnesota Timberwolves to pull out a 127-126 victory over Brooklyn in overtime Wednesday night.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 36 points and 14 rebounds for Minnesota, and Andrew Wiggins added 21 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:19 remaining.
Irving had the ball in his hands with a chance to cap his dazzling debut with a victory, following a Nets timeout. He ran the clock down and then began his drive, but lost his balance near the foul line. He retained his dribble, got up and shot, but his jumper missed.
After signing with the Nets in July, Irving broke Kiki Vandeweghe’s record for most points by a player in his first game with a team. Vandeweghe scored 47 points for Portland at Kansas City on Oct. 27, 1984.
Irving finished with eight rebounds and seven assists. Caris LeVert added 20 points.
NUGGETS 108, TRAIL BLAZERS 100
PORTLAND, Ore. — Nikola Jokic had 20 points and 13 rebounds despite sitting much of the first half because of foul trouble, and Denver spoiled the opening game of Portland’s 50th season.
Will Barton added 19 points for the Nuggets, who also snapped Portland’s 18-game winning streak in home openers, the longest streak in league history.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 32 points and eight assists, and Hassan Whiteside had 16 points and 19 rebounds in his Portland debut.
It was the first meeting between the teams since the Western Conference semifinals, won by the Blazers in seven games.
76ERS 107, CELTICS 93
PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid had 15 points and 13 rebounds, Ben Simmons scored 24 points and Philadelphia beat Boston.
Gordon Hayward led the Celtics with 25 points. Jayson Tatum had 21. Kemba Walker scored 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting in his Boston debut, and Al Horford had 16 in his first game with the 76ers.
Furkan Korkmaz and Tobias Harris buried consecutive 3-pointers for Philadelphia — after the Sixers had missed 21 of 24 through three quarters — to stretch the lead to 10.
MAVERICKS 108, WIZARDS 100
DALLAS — Luka Doncic had 34 points and nine rebounds and Kristaps Porzingis scored 23 points in the European pair’s long-awaited first game together, leading Dallas past Washington.
Porzingis missed his first four shots before taking a break and coming back to score nine points in the final 2:45 of the first quarter. The 7-foot-3 Latvian acquired in a blockbuster deal with the New York Knicks before the trading deadline last season was 7 of 16 from the field.
Doncic and Porzingis traded long 3-pointers throughout the game, finishing 7 of 16 between them (4 of 9 for Doncic, 3 of 7 for Porzingis). Doncic was 12 of 19 overall.
Washington rookie Rui Hachimura, the first Japanese-born player drafted in the first round, had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Bradley Beal scored 19 points less than a week after the All-Star guard signed a $72 million, two-year extension that will go through the 2022-23 season, with a player option after that.
HEAT 120, GRIZZLIES 101
MIAMI — Justise Winslow scored 27 points, rookie Kendrick Nunn scored 24 in his NBA debut and Miami ran away in the fourth quarter to beat Memphis.
Goran Dragic scored 19 points for Miami, which played without Jimmy Butler because of personal reasons. Nunn and fellow rookie Tyler Herro started in the backcourt instead.
Bam Adebayo had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Miami, and Winslow added seven rebounds and seven assists.
Ja Morant, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, scored 14 points and had four assists for Memphis. Jaren Jackson Jr. had 17 points.
PISTONS 119, PACERS 110
INDIANAPOLIS — Andre Drummond had 32 points and 23 rebounds, and Luke Kennard made three 3-pointers in the final six minutes in Detroit’s opening victory over Indiana.
Kennard scored 30 points, a career best, and matched his career high with six 3s.
Domantas Sabonis had 27 points and 13 rebounds for Indiana. Myles Turner added 25 points, and Malcolm Brogdon had 22 in his Pacers debut.
SPURS 120, KNICKS 111
SAN ANTONIO — LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points, Bryn Forbes added 20 and San Antonio, spoiling No. 2 overall pick RJ Barrett’s debut with New York.
Barrett had 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting with five rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes. Marcus Morris led New York with 26 points, and Julius Randle had 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Dejounte Murray, who played in his first game since tearing his right ACL in a preseason game Oct. 7, had 18 points, including a 3-pointer with five minutes remaining that put San Antonio up 105-97. The 6-foot-5 point guard had six assists and eight rebounds.
SUNS 124, KINGS 95
PHOENIX — Devin Booker had 22 points and 10 assists, Kelly Oubre Jr. added 21 points and Phoenix beat Sacrament in Monte Williams’ first games as the coach of the Suns.
Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and four steals in his first game with the Suns after signing a three-year, $51 million deal. Deandre Ayton added 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Buddy Hield led the Kings with 28 points. Luke Walton made his Sacramento coaching debut.
JAZZ 100, THUNDER 95
SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell had 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead Utah past Oklahoma City.
Mitchell scored 22 points in the second half. Bojan Bogdanovic added 16 points, and Royce O’Neale chipped in with 14 for the Jazz. Rudy Gobert grabbed 14 rebounds.
Mike Conley went 1 of 16 from the field in his Utah debut after spending his first 12 seasons with Memphis. He missed his first 12 shots before finally scoring on a floater in the lane with 5.9 seconds left in the third quarter. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 26 points on 10-of-23 shooting for the Thunder, and Chris Paul added 22 points and eight rebounds.
HORNETS 126, BULLS 125
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rookie PJ Washington hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points to help Charlotte open the post-Kemba Walker era with a victory over Chicago.
The Hornets made 23 3-pointers, the most in franchise history in a regulation game. The record is 24 in a double-overtime game. Devonte Graham had 23 points on 6-of-7 3-point shooting and added eight assists.
Lauri Markkanen led Chicago with 35 points and 17 rebounds.
MAGIC 94, CAVALIERS 85
ORLANDO, Fla. — Nikola Vucevic had 21 points and nine rebounds in Orlando’s victory over Cleveland.
Evan Fournier scored 16 points for Orlando, and Markelle Fultz had 12 points and six assists in his Magic debut. Kevin Love had 11 points and 18 rebounds for Cleveland in John Beilein’s first game as coach.
Ahead of Tuesday’s heavyweight NBA tipoff matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis spoke about the Big 3 that never was.
As they open up their season against Kawhi Leonard and company, the two Lakers stars shed some light on their recruitment efforts of the two-time NBA Finals MVP who signed with their crosstown rival.
When asked at shootaround why Leonard didn’t sign with the Lakers, James gave a blunt response.
“Man, how the hell can I answer that? I don’t f—ing know,” James said, per ESPN. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Ask Kawhi.”
James believed Lakers had a chance to sign Leonard
James, who had a grin on his face when made that quip, did shed some light on his thoughts on Leonard during the recruitment process. He believed the Lakers had a chance to sign him.
“I don’t get too excited until things actually happen, but I thought we had a chance,” James said. “That’s all you can ask for. We put ourselves in position to have a chance to get [Leonard]. When he went to the Clippers, I thought that was just as cool. It was great for our league, and he had to do what was best for him. And we all respect that.”
Leonard, of course, took his own time to make his decision, as was his prerogative as the top target in the summer’s star-laden free agency class. His delayed decision hamstrung the Lakers from making other moves as they held out hope that Leonard would sign with them.
James took a diplomatic when discussing Leonard’s process, which makes sense considering James has certainly taken his own cutthroat strategies to his own business decisions. Game respects game.
LeBron not dishing the details
He drew the line at discussing exactly what he said to Leonard as he made his Lakers pitch.
“Um, we don’t really talk about what happens on my phone,” James said.
LOS ANGELES — It’s still nearly three hours before tipoff of Tuesday night’s season opener between the Lakers and Clippers, and the man in the black surgical mask and backward baseball cap is starting to get antsy.
“You ready?” he asks a fellow volunteer.
Upon receiving a nod, he grabs a bagful of yellow and black “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts from the back of a rental truck and walks toward Staples Center in hopes of finding like-minded fans willing to display that message inside the arena.
The man known by the pseudonym “MWG” is one of three activists responsible for organizing the largest-scale protest yet of the NBA’s handling of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s infamous tweet. It’s been nearly three weeks since Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong sent NBA luminaries scrambling to appease China, giving the appearance they care more about protecting their financial interests than defending Morey’s right to free speech.
In the wake of China’s outrage over Morey’s tweet, a Reddit user who goes by the pseudonym of “Sun Lared” posted, “Let’s pass out ‘Free Hong Kong’ T-shirts at Staples Center on Opening Night and make Chinese TV censor the whole audience.” Much to the Northern California resident’s surprise, the GoFundMe page he created to fund his cause raked in $43,000 within 48 hours.
“I thought maybe we could raise enough money to buy a few thousand shirts, but I was blown away by how much support we got,” Lared said. “I think it says a lot about how strongly people feel that American companies shouldn’t self censor themselves on China’s behalf.”
Overwhelmed by the notion of organizing a demonstration this massive on his own, Lared gladly accepted help from a pair of fellow Reddit users sympathetic to the cause. Los Angeles-area residents “MWG” and “Karpov” helped Lared design and print 13,000 T-shirts, rent a truck to get them to Staples Center and find dozens of fellow volunteers willing to help distribute them.
On Tuesday afternoon, the three men met for the first time in a parking lot across the street from Staples Center. None of the trio revealed their real names to anyone out of fear of harassment on social media or the Chinese government tormenting their friends or family in Hong Kong.
Lared and Karpov set a conservative goal of at least 1,000 fans wearing the “Stand with Hong Kong” shirts inside the arena, enough to make their presence known and bring attention to their cause. MWG had bigger objectives in mind, which is why he spent time earlier in the week scouting the walkways outside Staples Center to identify where the most foot traffic would be.
On Tuesday evening, MCW zipped around the outskirts of the arena, offering encouragement to the volunteers passing out shirts and advising them where to go next. He brought water bottles when the volunteers got thirsty, pamphlets when they ran low or bags of shirts when they were out of a certain size.
“I lived in Hong Kong from 1999-2000 and I loved it,” a man told him after accepting a shirt. “I hope it stays the same.”
Replied MWG, “That’s why we’re here.”
China vs. the NBA
The confrontation between the NBA and China erupted on Oct. 4. China took offense to Morey’s tweet and countered by attempting to use its economic clout to muzzle not only Morey but any other outspoken NBA luminaries tempted to speak up on Hong Kong’s behalf. Broadcasts of Rockets games were scrapped and sponsorship deals were halted.
Scrambling to protect the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, the NBA released a statement calling Morey’s tweet “regrettable.” James Harden apologized, the owner of the Houston Rockets publicly rebuked Morey and LeBron James said Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation”
In the wake of those comments, several hundred protesters wearing black “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts attended the Brooklyn Nets’ final preseason game on Friday at the Barclays Center. One fan’s homemade sign targeted LeBron. Another read, “Don’t let China buy our silence. People are dying to be free.”
Among those in attendance that night was Nathan Law, a Yale grad student and former Hong Kong lawmaker who says he was imprisoned for several months in 2017 for his role in pro-democracy protests. According to Law’s Twitter account, the protesters targeted the Nets to “send a signal” to the team’s owner Joseph Tsai, co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, that “the way he followed the CCP’s stigmatization and criticized Morey was disgraceful.”
Supporters of Hong Kong’s democracy movement organized larger-scale protests for the opening week of the NBA regular season, the first of which took place Tuesday night in Toronto before the reigning champion Raptors opened their title defense against the Pelicans. Mimi Lee, a financial adviser who founded the Torontonian HongKongers Action Group, raised enough money to purchase and distribute 7,000 yellow and black T-shirts that read, “The North stands with Hong Kong.”
“We want to make enough noise to show the world what is happening and raise awareness,” Lee said. “I grew up in Hong Kong and I went back to Hong Kong to work for nearly a decade after I graduated, and it’s heartbreaking to see how much things have changed. The majority of our rights have eroded and the Chinese are influencing more and more.”
A similar demonstration is scheduled to take place Thursday in San Francisco when the Golden State Warriors open their new arena. San Francisco resident Lee Bishop raised more than $13,000 via GoFundMe, purchased thousands of blue-and-yellow “Free Hong Kong” shirts and found more than 80 volunteers to help him pass them out.
“I think it’s extremely hypocritical that the NBA and its players are turning a blind eye to human rights violations,” Bishop said. “I just hope that everyone who is going to the game will embrace the message and stand up for what’s right. It will be great to let this broadcast go across the globe and let the world see that America stands with Hong Kong.”
‘You can’t put a price on freedom’
In Los Angeles, the organizers of the Staples Center protest had a lot to smile about as they observed their teams of volunteers handing out shirts. Though some Lakers and Clippers fans were too excited about the upcoming season not to display team colors or too fashion-conscious to don a free T-shirt, many others embraced the cause and slipped the pro-Hong Kong shirts over whatever they were wearing.
A hostess at a restaurant adjacent to Staples Center snuck away from her post long enough to grab T-shirts for herself and three colleagues. Moments later, a man in a faded Nick Van Exel jersey asked for an extra large. Up next was a dad who took a shirt for himself and his son and explained, “You can’t put a price on freedom.”
For the three organizers of the protest, the sight of people wearing the Hong Kong shirts was satisfying for different reasons. They wanted to show the people of Hong Kong that Americans have their back. They wanted to show China that Americans cannot be silenced. And they wanted to show NBA players and owners that there are consequences to putting Chinese dollars above American values.
“I think this particular protest has a lot more to do with freedom of speech in the U.S. than anything to do with Hong Kong,” Karpov said. “This is our turf in the U.S. This is our people exercising their most fundamental right of freedom of speech. I don’t know how it happened that a country that has a business relationship with us can now determine what we say.”
Each time Karpov, MWG and Lared returned to the rental truck throughout the evening, the pile of T-shirts outside kept getting smaller and smaller. At 6 p.m. Tuesday night, the protesters had distributed roughly half the 13,000 shirts they ordered. By tipoff, not many boxes of T-shirts remained.
There was far more Clippers red and blue or Lakers purple and gold in Staples Center than there were fans clad in “Stand with Hong Kong” shirts, but enough people wore them for the organizers of the protest to be satisfied. One kid even tricked the Staples Center video board operators into showing his “Stand with Hong Kong” shirt on the dance cam.
“Even if they don’t all wear them at the game and they wear them at the mall or the park, that’s spreading awareness,” Karpov said. “Hopefully the impact will be felt days and weeks after.”
The NBA’s opening night games on Tuesday were reportedly nixed from Chinese state television amid the ongoing controversy between the league and foreign country.
CCTV has historically televised the league’s opening games. But they pulled all NBA broadcasts in response to the Oct. 4 tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, where the executive expressed support for the Hong Kong protesters, ESPN reported.
Meanwhile, Tencent, the league’s Chinese-based streaming partner, limited its schedule to just one game Tuesday night — the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers.
The league over the summer cut a deal with Tencet, extending streaming rights to the company for five more years at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion, the site said.
Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday came to the defense of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who set off a firestorm between the NBA and China earlier this month when he tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
“One of our best values here in America is free speech — we’re allowed to say what we want to say and we are allowed to speak out on injustices and that’s just how it goes and if people don’t understand that that’s something they have to deal with,” Shaq said on TNT’s pregame show on opening night of the NBA season.
“It was unfortunate for both parties, and you’ve got people speaking out about something they don’t know what they’re talking about,” the four-time NBA champion continued. “Daryl Morey was right — whenever you see something going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, ‘That’s not right.'”
Morey tweeted in support of the anti-government protesters on October 4, saying, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” As a result, several Chinese partners cut ties with the NBA, its largest broadcaster refused to air preseason games taking place in the country and the government called for Morey to be fired.
But Commissioner Adam Silver said the league supports free speech and there was “no chance” that the league would discipline Morey over his tweet. Meanwhile, Morey has not addressed the controversy since several tweets attempting to clarify his position on the protests.
Several of the league’s biggest stars, including LeBron James and James Harden, attempted to soften the blow. James called Morey’s comment “misinformed,” while Harden apologized for the tweet, saying, “We apologize. We love China. We love playing there.”