NBA Notes: Lakers not rushing Kobe's return


NBA Notes: Lakers not rushing Kobe's return

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers are heading into training camp still unsure when Kobe Bryant will be on the court this season.

General manager Mitch Kupchak says Bryant was at the Lakers' training complex almost every morning this summer, working aggressively to return from mid-April surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.

Although the 35-year-old Bryant has made steady progress in his recovery, the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history hasn't yet returned to the Lakers' practice court for any basketball work.

The Lakers aren't pushing Bryant to return. They've got enough work to do as coach Mike D'Antoni patches together a team in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure.

Kupchak says Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are fully healthy, but will ease into training camp workouts (see full story).

Thunder: Westbrook's status unclear
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti says the timetable for All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook's return from a knee injury remains uncertain as the Thunder open training camp.

During his "state of the franchise" news conference Wednesday, Presti fielded many questions about Westbrook's status.

Westbrook tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during Game 2 of the first-round playoff series against Houston.

Westbrook had surgery April 27 and hasn't been fully cleared medically yet. Presti says it would be "irresponsible" to say when that might occur, but didn't dispute the notion that Westbrook could miss the Thunder's season opener Oct. 30 at Utah.

Presti says Westbrook has been cleared to participate in portions of training camp, which starts Saturday, but the decision to release him for unrestricted activity "will be a medical decision" (see full story).

Wizards: Team eyes return to playoffs
WASHINGTON -- Asked whether he feels any extra pressure to reach the postseason, Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman fiddled with his eyeglasses on the table in front of him and looked straight ahead.

"Well, that's what we want: We want to get to the playoffs," Wittman said. "Do you think this is the first time I've been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn't mean anything."

Wittman and team President Ernie Grunfeld -- both men have deals that end after the upcoming season -- held a joint news conference Wednesday and made pretty clear what the aim should be for point guard John Wall and the rest of the Wizards.

"We want to build on what we started to establish last year. Obviously, our initial goal is to be a playoff contender and ultimately, by the end of the year, make the playoffs," Grunfeld said.

Washington went 29-53 last season, missing out on the postseason for the fifth consecutive year (see full story).

NBA: Knicks, Nets to share '15 All-Star festivities
NEW YORK -- New York City has been selected to host the NBA All-Star weekend in 2015, with the game played at Madison Square Garden and the slam dunk contest and other skills events held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the official announcement at a news conference Wednesday.

The league has been working with the Knicks and Nets for months on the plan to split the events.

The league last split sites for its midseason showcase in 2010, when the Saturday events were in the Dallas Mavericks' arena and the game was held at the Cowboys' stadium.

The NBA All-Star game was last played at Madison Square Garden in 1998 (see full story).

Sixers-Thunder 10 observations: Joel Embiid electrifies in debut

Sixers-Thunder 10 observations: Joel Embiid electrifies in debut

Joel Embiid and Dario Saric playing in a regular-season game for the Sixers? Check.

Russell Westbrook being, well, Russell Westbrook? Check.

An overzealous fan giving Westbrook a crude salute and getting tossed from the arena? Yeah, check that one off too.

The Sixers' tight 103-97 loss to the Thunder in Wednesday night's season opener at the Wells Fargo Center had a little bit of everything (see Instant Replay).

Let's take a closer look at the action with 10 observations.

1. Embiid is already a rock star among Sixers fans thanks to his personality and social media antics, but if his game ever matches his fame, look out. When he caught the ball at the free throw line during the first quarter and did a mini "Dream Shake" to bury a jumper for his first NBA points and then followed it up on the other end with a massive swat of a Westbrook layup attempt, he gave the crowd an in impressive glimpse of his vast potential. He was even showered with “Trust the Process” chants when he stepped to the free throw line during the second half. Embiid finished the game with 20 points on 6 of 16 shooting and seven rebounds along with two blocks.

2. That's not to say the big fella was without his faults. After spending two years on the sidelines, Embiid was understandably amped up and tried to do too much at times on both offense (held the ball too much, four turnovers) and defense (over-helping on rotations, which left the paint open). Like anything involving Embiid, it's a process.

3. Note to fans: Westbrook is already a supremely focused and competitive player. He doesn't need any help to get going. However, one Sixers fan took it upon himself to rev up the Thunder's All-Star point guard with a special salute in the first quarter before being promptly ejected (see story). No wonder Westbrook scored 12 of his game-high 32 points in the first quarter and finished just one assist shy of a triple-double.

4. Saric didn’t have a great shooting night (2 of 12 from the field for five points), but he still looked relatively solid in the victory. The Croatian showcased the versatility that had the Sixers salivating over him for the past two years, including a number of pump/head fakes to get defenders off balance before he missed the ensuing shot. He was overmatched inside when OKC went to its super-sized lineup with mustache afficionados Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (combined 33 points and 17 rebounds) down low. But that’s more on Brett Brown leaving the rookie out to dry than Saric’s ability.

5. Speaking of Brown, I’m not sure if the Sixers will ever value possessions like they should under a head coach with his Spurs pedigree. However, just 14 for a squad that has finished 30th, 30th and 29th in that category during Brown's first three years at the helm is definitely a step in the right direction.

6. Surgery for a meniscus tear didn’t do anything to hamper Jahlil Okafor’s post moves. The second-year big man looked spry after playing in just one preseason game before the opener. His shot was a tad rusty (4 of 10), but Okafor managed eight points in 16 minutes.

7. I’ve been critical of the Sixers’ defense over the years mainly because … it was non-existent. That wasn’t the case Wednesday until the fourth quarter. They were outscored, 34-22, in the final period. For the most part, the Sixers closed out to shooters and rotated with purpose on the defensive end of the floor. They held the Thunder to 41.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three-point range. Not bad when the “crown jewel” of the D in Embiid was limited to 22 minutes.

8. Jerryd Bayless might want to hurry back from that wrist injury. Sergio Rodriguez had the ball on a string all night long for the Sixers. The point guard had 12 points to go along with nine assists, zero turnovers and countless dribble moves that left Thunder defenders grasping at air. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played an NBA game since 2010.

9. Sauce Castillo lives! OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but Nik Stauskas was excellent. He was decisive with his movements and got himself going by driving to the rim. The guard posted 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting off the bench. Perhaps coming into a season without the pressure of having to live up to being the No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft and playing with close friend T.J. McConnell are what the third-year player needed.

10. Wednesday’s game was a thriller down to the end, but you can’t help but feel that some of the extra juice that would have been in the building for No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons was missing. Instead of suiting up, Simmons held a press conference to discuss his health after foot surgery (see story).

Instant Replay: Joel Embiid shines in debut but Sixers edged by Thunder in opener

Instant Replay: Joel Embiid shines in debut but Sixers edged by Thunder in opener


The Sixers' first game of the 2016-17 regular season and the first of Joel Embiid’s career is in the books.

The Sixers lost, 103-97, to the Thunder in a closely-contested game that came down to the final minute. The two teams were separated by two points or less for nearly the final four minutes of the game. Ultimately, the Sixers fell scoreless in the last 50 seconds as the Thunder pulled away for the win.

The Sixers led by six, 87-81, with 5:30 left in regulation, but Oklahoma City closed the game on a 22-10 run.

Embiid exceeded his 20-minute restriction to clock 22:25. He scored a team-high 20 points (6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 7 for 8 from the line) to go with seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls (see 10 observations).

Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook recorded a double-double. He led all players with 32 points (11 for 21 from the floor, 1 for 2 from three, 9 for 11 from the line), 12 rebounds and nine assists. He scored nine points in the final 4:09 of the game to help Oklahoma City finish the Sixers.

Inside the box score
• Point guard Sergio Rodriguez posted 12 points, nine assists and zero turnovers in 31 minutes.

• Shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 13 points in 22 minutes off the bench.

• Forward Dario Saric, also making his NBA debut, shot 2 for 12 from the field for five points in 27 minutes.

• The Sixers blocked 10 shots, led by Richaun Holmes' game-high three.

• The game featued 13 lead changes and seven ties. The Sixers' largest lead was 11 in the first quarter.

Sixers' regular-season firsts
The Sixers’ first basket/assist: Alley-oop dunk from Rodriguez to Gerald Henderson (you know, the play everyone — or no one — expected to see). 

Embiid’s first stat: A defensive rebound off a Westbrook missed jumper 19 seconds into the game.

Embiid’s first bucket: A 16-foot turnaround jumper with 8:17 remaining in the first.

Saric’s first field goal: With 8:51 to go in the first quarter, a 21-foot jumper off a pass from Rodriguez. 

Okafor’s first minutes: 7:47 left in the first quarter, subbing in for Embiid. Okafor scored eight points in 16 minutes.

Sixers’ first three: Henderson from Saric 1:14 into the first.

Injury update
Jerryd Bayless (left wrist soreness), Nerlens Noel (inflamed plica in left knee) and Ben Simmons (Jones fracture in right foot) did not play. Simmons spoke about his injury before the game (see story). Embiid was originally planned to be limited to 20 minutes, Okafor 12 to 14. 

Up next
The Sixers will host the Hawks on Saturday in an early afternoon game at 12:30 p.m.