CLEVELAND -- There's a new guard in the East, literally speaking, and John Wall of the Washington Wizards says he is one of a trio of court generals at the top who will be forever intertwined along with Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Chicago's Derrick Rose.
"I think between me, [Irving] and Derrick, we're always going to be rivals, in my opinion," Wall told ESPN.com before the Wizards played the Cavs on Wednesday. "Number one picks, all in the Eastern Conference, I think it's going to be a battle for a long time, I mean as long as everybody is healthy and playing. That's what everybody is going to want to see."
Rose went No. 1 in 2008, followed by Wall in 2010 and Irving in 2011.
All three players' teams figure to be a part of the playoffs this season, with Washington owning the conference's No. 2 record, Chicago holding No. 3 and Cleveland at No. 7 despite a rocky start going into Wednesday's games. The postseason is where rivalries tend to flourish in the NBA, and Wall's Wizards beat the Bulls in the first round last spring with Rose sidelined because of injury.
Irving has yet to make the playoffs in his first three seasons. In the absence of any bad blood from intense playoff battles between them so far, both Wall and Irving were effusive in their praise of one another.
The Brooklyn Nets played extremely poorly in the final three quarters Wednesday night, but managed to come away with a 99-91 victory over the winless Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo, dropping Philadelphia to 0-15. The 2009-10 New Jersey Nets started the 2009-10 an NBA-worst 0-18.
The Nets are 6-8. They have yet to beat anyone with a .500 or better record this season (0-6), and Wednesday they struggled against a team that is essentially trying to lose.
The Nets led by as many as 20 and had to gut this one out at the end. They were trailing in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Garnett delivered a huge jumper with 32.8 seconds left to give Brooklyn a 93-89 lead. On this night, against this opponent, it was enough.
Player of the game: Alan Anderson had 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter to help bail out the Nets.
Stat of the game: The Nets had 24 turnovers.
Play of this game: K.J. McDaniels had a one-handed dunk in the second quarter. It was good.
Laugh of the game: D-Will’s errant pass to his coach, Lionel Hollins.
That heckler life: Kevin Garnett was shooting free throws. Someone in the stands yelled, “You’re garbage. ... Paul Pierce left you.”
Up next: The Nets practice Friday and Saturday before taking on the Chicago Bulls Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center.
DALLAS -- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has come up with a proposal to level the playing field between the NBA's two conferences.
Cuban suggests a conference realignment that would result in a total of eight teams, including the Mavs, switching conferences.
In Cuban's plan, the Mavs, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans would move to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West.
"It's not like it'd be the first time we've ever realigned," Cuban said. "It's happened many times before, so there's precedent and I just think it shakes things up and makes things interesting."
Cuban, whose Mavs were the West's eighth seed with a 49-33 record last season but would have been a No. 3 seed in the East, acknowledged that he had some selfish motivation for the plan. However, he believes the league would benefit as a whole.
"It's not like you're reducing competition," said Cuban, who noted that the teams he suggested moving to the West are approximately the same distance from Portland as Dallas and closer than New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston. "You keep Cleveland, Washington and other good teams in the East. It kind of shakes things up in terms of not just interest but also in terms of how people rebuild.
"It just changes things up and it changes the thought process of a lot of teams. It makes both conferences very competitive, at least for the short term and I think, based on the history of the teams, for the long term as well."
Commissioner Adam Silver has been receptive to ideas that would address the issue of the West being a significantly deeper, stronger conference than the East. One idea that has been floated is to have a 16-team playoff bracket that does not take conferences into consideration.
Cuban has not discussed his idea, which he hatched during a media interview Wednesday, with the commissioner or anyone else in the NBA.
"I did the trial close right here," Cuban said as he worked out on his stair-stepper and talked to reporters before Wednesday's home game against the New York Knicks
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was limited to 10 minutes in his second game back from a left hamstring strain. Rose, who scored 18 points in his return Monday night against Utah after a four-game absence, felt tightness in the hamstring during the first quarter and didn't play the rest of the way.
Jimmy Butler had 32 points for Chicago.
But Smart's return certainly will help Boston, giving the team back one of its most impactful players despite his rookie status.
Consider this: Smart owns the team's best on-court net rating -- the difference between the team's offensive and defensive ratings. Boston is plus-11.3 points per 100 possessions during Smart's 102 minutes of floor time. Most notably, Boston's defensive rating is 100.2 with Smart on the court, which is 6.7 points per 100 possessions better than the team's season average and 8.2 points better than when he's off the court.
You can make the case that it's a factor of a small sample size, but remember that two of Boston's early-season games came against Dallas and Toronto, the two top offenses in the league. The Celtics are a better defensive team when Smart is on the floor with his ability to harass multiple positions.
In individual defensive data logged by Synergy Sports, Smart is allowing a mere 0.61 points per play and ranks in the 97th percentile among all league players. The league's player tracking data might be even more impressive. Smart is limiting opponents to 28 percent shooting, which is a staggering 15.1 percent lower than the average of the shooters he's defending.
The Celtics showed some encouraging strides defensively in Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Smart is only going to help the defense tighten up, particularly when you consider he'll be helping to defend players who have typically been checked by the likes of Evan Turner or Marcus Thornton, two players whose individual and team defensive numbers are not quite as glossy.
Again, it's likely that Smart will need some time to reintegrate and he might not be as crisp while that ankle recovers. But he's going to help Boston. A glance at Boston's top two-man lineups finds Smart accounting for a handful of them. The Smart-Jared Sullinger lineup had a net differential of plus-38.3 in 43 minutes of court time (pairing an offensive rating of 134 with a defensive rating of 95.7). Smart and Rondo were plus-11.8 in net rating in 45 minutes together.
Smart had to be stretchered off the court after stepping awkwardly on the foot of Indiana's Lavoy Allen while driving to the basket back on Nov. 7. Tests revealed only a severe sprain of his left ankle and bone bruising, and the team announced his recovery would take two to three weeks. Friday's game would be exactly three weeks from the injury.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has noted that the team will not rush Smart back until he's ready. If he wakes up Wednesday -- or Friday morning -- and the ankle doesn't feel right, there's no sense in forcing him to go.
But there's no denying that Boston is a better team with a healthy Smart.
While the Celtics enjoyed a second straight off-day on Tuesday, Smart traveled north for a "Teaming Up Against Cancer" pep rally with students at South Lawrence East Elementary School.
Smart told the students about watching his older brother, Todd Westbrook, lose his battle with cancer. And Smart applauded the efforts of the elementary school kids, who are wrapping up a monthlong program aimed at raising awareness for social causes.
"I was 10 years old when I lost my brother to cancer,” said Smart. “Seeing these kids here and what they’re doing teaming up against cancer, it almost brings tears to your eyes that somebody so young understands and they can make a difference at their age."
DENVER -- Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose's left hamstring hampered him in the first half of Tuesday night's game against the Denver Nuggets, and he did not return for the second half as the Bulls fell 114-109.
The Bulls officially listed the injury as left hamstring tightness, but Rose said after the game his hamstring was fine and he did not have a setback. He was "just trying to be smart" given his recent injury history.
"It wasn't nothing like I'm limping or I pulled it or anything, it wasn't any of that," Rose said. "It was just that I wasn't moving the way I wanted to while I was on the floor. So why push through it when I wasn't able to affect the game the way I wanted to? I came in here and talked to (Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau) and we both agreed on just sitting out."
Rose was 1-for-4 from the field for two points in 10 minutes, but was not aggressive when he was on the floor. Rose acknowledged that Thibodeau initiated the conversation at halftime and Rose agreed with his coach's decision because he was having a hard time moving around on both ends of the floor against the Nuggets' high-tempo offense.
"It's frustrating," Rose said. "But you can't let it get me down. I know that at the end (the setbacks) are just going to be minor but it's a long season and we just got to keep going and I know the team, they're not worried about me. I should be good."
"He's out," coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. "Knee effusion and eye abrasion."
Noah's left knee has been giving him problems since training camp after having arthroscopic surgery right after last season ended. Noah got poked in his left eye during the third quarter of Monday night's win over the Utah Jazz, but returned to the game.
Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol played on the second night of a back-to-back after returning to the lineup Monday night. Thibodeau said power forward Taj Gibson is still "day-to-day" and remains in Chicago receiving treatment for a sprained left ankle suffered in Friday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.