NBA Notes: Finals format changed to 2-2-1-1-1

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NBA Notes: Finals format changed to 2-2-1-1-1

NEW YORK -- Beginning with the 2014 NBA Finals, the higher-seeded team will host Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower seed gets Games 3, 4 and 6, following the same format the NBA uses in all other rounds.

The change comes about as NBA owners unanimously voted Wednesday to scrap a format for the championship round that featured three home consecutive games for the lower-seeded team in the middle of the series.

Referred to as the 2-3-2 scenario, the higher seed opened with two home games, then played three straight on the road, before closing with two more home games. It was conducive to travel, especially when teams had to span several time zones, and was a favorite of outgoing commissioner David Stern.

In the new format, though there will be more travel inconveniences, the higher seed will host the first two games, before hitting the road for two games. At that point -- Game 5 -- the teams will alternate home games, ending with a potential Game 7 on the higher-seeded team's floor. This format, used in the other playoff rounds, is known as the 2-2-1-1-1 (see full story).

Cavs: Options picked up on Irving, 3 others
CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers picked up the fourth-year contract options on All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and forward Tristan Thompson.

The team also exercised the third-year options on guard Dion Waiters and forward Tyler Zeller on Wednesday. All of the moves were expected and came one week before Cleveland opens the 2013-14 season at home against Brooklyn.

The options on Irving and Thompson are for the 2014-15 season. The Cavs can offer both players contract extensions starting next summer. Irving will make about $7.5 million next season and Thompson about $5.4 million.

Irving made the All-Star team in his second season, when he averaged 22.5 points and 5.9 assists in 59 games. The Cavs are counting on him to become more of a leader this season and lead the club back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Kings: Assistant Brendan Malone resigns
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento Kings assistant coach Brendan Malone has resigned.

The team said it accepted Malone's resignation Wednesday. It did not disclose why Malone resigned.

Malone is the father of new Kings coach Michael Malone. He has 27 years of NBA experience, including a stint as an assistant to Chuck Daly on two championship teams in Detroit. Malone also was the first head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

Michael Malone said in a statement that he was thankful to have his father on staff to help him transition into his new role. He says his father "will always be an invaluable source of counsel on all matters basketball and otherwise."

Chris Jent will assume Brendan Malone's responsibilities as the lead assistant.

Rockets: Howard is happy again
HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard says he is happy again.

The star center has put his lone disappointing and drama-filled season in Los Angeles behind him. He says he is ecstatic about joining the Houston Rockets and helping the young team compete for a championship.

Howard says: "I'm in a better place mentally, physically and spiritually now."

His delight is evident in watching him interact with his new teammates. He wears a broad smile fits of laughter are common as he chats with his fellow Rockets.

Howard spurned the Lakers to sign an $88 million deal with Houston, joining James Harden and a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009 (see full story).

Sixers-Nuggets 5 things: Defense needs to improve to stop skid

Sixers-Nuggets 5 things: Defense needs to improve to stop skid

The Sixers (4-16) close out their four-game homestand against the Denver Nuggets (7-13) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing the stop sign
Apparently, tis the season for giving up points.

The Sixers' defense folded again in their latest loss, a 107-106 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night. The Sixers have allowed 107.8 points per game this season (25th in the NBA) and 109.1 during their six-game losing skid.

The Sixers let All-Star Isaiah Thomas do the damage on Saturday as he scored 37 points to become the fifth point guard to reach the 30-point plateau against them this season.

On the other side, the Nuggets' defense has actually been even worse. They rank 27th in the league with 109.5 points allowed per game.

2. Hello again
With Joel Embiid also making his debut this season, Dario Saric was always going to play second fiddle when it came to rookies on the Sixers' roster. That has certainly been the case now that Embiid has been putting up dominant numbers while Saric has been up and down.

However, Saric was on the same level as his fellow rookie against the Celtics. The Croatian broke out of a recent slump to notch a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds, which both matched career highs.

That performance also included this highlight-reel moment when Saric destroyed Jonas Jerebko's ankles (see video).

“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said (see story). “After I have some bad rhythm of five or six, maybe, games. Now I concentrate more. I try to give my best, try to play my best, try to think before everything happens.”

3. Clean the glass
The Sixers will need a similar effort from Saric on the boards if they want to compete with the Nuggets.

Denver is the No. 1 rebounding team in the entire NBA with 49.6 rebounds per game. The Nuggets attack the glass on both ends, too, as they are tops in defensive rebounding and No. 2 in offensive rebounding.

The offensive boards are also a main reason Denver sits third in second-chance points with 15.6 a night.

None of that bodes well for a Sixers team that rates just 20th overall in rebounding.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (gastroenteritis) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Nikola Jokic (wrist) and Gary Harris (foot) are out for the Nuggets.

5. This and that
• The Sixers lost both meetings with the Nuggets last season by a combined four points.

• Monday's game will feature both players who won the NBA's Rookie of the Month awards in Embiid and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray. Embiid is averaging 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. Murray is putting up 9.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 21.7 minutes a night.

• In seven career games against the Sixers, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has averaged 7.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. Those are actually his lowest and third-lowest marks, respectively, against any NBA team.

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

CAMDEN, N.J. -- In following with his back-to-back plan, Joel Embiid will play Monday against the Nuggets at home and will not play Tuesday against the Grizzlies in Memphis. Embiid will be on a 28-minute restriction, established last week. 

"Obviously I wanted to play against Memphis," Embiid said after shootaround Monday. "Marc Gasol, great guy to play against. I wanted to do that but we've got Denver, especially at home. I know the fans that want to see team, that want to see me play. So that was a big factor into choosing, deciding to play this game."

The Sixers may be without fellow big Jahlil Okafor, who missed shootaround because of illness. He is questionable for Monday's game. 

Robert Covington will miss his second straight game with a left knee sprain. He also has flu-like symptoms. He will not travel to Memphis or New Orleans. 

Jerryd Bayless also remains sidelined with left wrist soreness. His status to join the team for the next two games on the road is questionable. 

Nerlens Noel, who is rehabbing with the Sixers, will not join the team on trip.