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Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, has been suspended for 25 games for violating the NBA-NBPA’s anti-drug policy with a positive test for a diuretic, the league announced Thursday night.

The National Basketball Players Association plans to file arbitration papers immediately on behalf of Ayton, believing that there will be a case to have the penalty reduced or rescinded based on a collective bargaining agreement provision of “unintentional ingestion,” league sources told ESPN.

Diuretics are banned because they can mask performance-enhancing drug use. Sources with knowledge of Ayton’s testing told ESPN that follow-up testing on him showed no traces of any other banned substances.

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The NBPA has the ability to expedite two cases a year with the league, and sources say it’s likely the union will use one of them on Ayton to try to get him back on the court as soon possible.

The timing is terrible for the Suns, who beat Sacramento on opening night Wednesday behind 18 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks by Ayton.

Ayton would lose $2.17 million over a 25-game suspension.

“I want to apologize to my family, the entire Suns organization, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix Suns Jerseys China community,” Ayton said in a statement. “This was an unintentional mistake and unfortunately I put something in my body that I was completely unaware of.

“I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve let my team down.

“I will continue to work with the NBPA to go through arbitration and am hopeful of a positive resolution.”

The team also issued a statement.

“On behalf of the Phoenix Suns organization, (coach) Monty Williams and I are disappointed in the actions by Deandre Ayton that led to his testing positive for a banned diuretic and subsequent suspension by the NBA. This does not uphold the standards and principles we have set for the team,” Suns general manager James Jones said.

“Deandre has expressed his deepest remorse. While he is suspended we remain committed to his growth and development on and off the court. His actions are not taken lightly, and we are committed to ensuring that Deandre understands the profound impact it has had on the team, organization, and Suns community.”

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HOUSTON — James Harden blamed himself more than he credited the Milwaukee Bucks’ execution of their unique defensive scheme for his struggles to score in the Houston Rockets’ 117-111 season-opening loss Thursday night.

Harden, the NBA’s scoring champion in each of the last two seasons, finished with only 19 points on 2-of-13 shooting. He didn’t have a field goal in the second half, when he was held to four free throws and the Bucks rallied from a 16-point deficit to win at the Toyota Center.

“Give them credit, they came back and played well in that second half, but this one is on me,” said Harden, who had 14 assists and seven turnovers. “I wasn’t aggressive enough, and that’s what it was.”

The Bucks firmly believe that their defense had a lot to do with Harden’s problems. As they did in their two wins over the Rockets last season, Milwaukee had Harden’s primary defender shade his strong hand so heavily that their feet faced Harden’s left hip, making it difficult for him to launch his lethal step-back jumper and funneling him into traffic, where shot-blockers Brook Lopez Jersey China and Giannis Antetokounmpo Jersey China usually awaited.

Wesley Matthews, right, and his Bucks teammates kept the pressure on Houston’s James Harden Jersey China all night Thursday. Harden scored just 19 points as the Rockets lost their season opener. Tim Warner/Getty Images
“He’s such a great player, you have to kind of think, ‘Can we do something a little unconventional, something a little different?’” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s seen everything. He’s seen us a couple of times last year. I thought in the second half the discipline was better.”

Harden had 15 points in the first half despite not getting his first field goal until 2:06 remained in the second quarter. He was 10-of-10 from the free throw line by halftime.

Harden missed all seven of his shots from the floor in the second half — including six 3-pointers — and didn’t score until a trip to the free throw line with 1:26 remaining.

“I trust the philosophy that the coaches had, and it worked out,” said Bucks shooting guard Wesley Matthews Jersey China, who was the primary defender on Harden for much of the game in his Milwaukee debut. “This is a different kind of situation for me. I felt like [in previous seasons] that I had to make the stop, I had to get the stop. That’s not the case with this team. We’ve got a team full of defenders with length and activity. It’s truly a team defense. That’s a credit to everybody in this room.”

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Harden insisted that the Bucks’ scheme wasn’t a factor in him attempting fewer field goals than he did in any game last season, when his scoring average of 36.1 points per game was the highest by any NBA player in three decades.

“It’s me,” said Harden, who averaged 32.5 points but shot only 39.3 percent from the floor in the Rockets’ two losses to the Bucks last season. “I can get any shot I want to. … It’s the first game of the season, so I’ve got to get my rhythm as well. I wish I would just go out there and make every shot and have my swagger like I will be. It’ll come.”

Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, offered a dissenting view from the visitors locker room on how the Bucks affected Harden, who Antetokounmpo called “one of the best offensive players today in our league.”

“We just tried to make him drive the ball and make him make the pass,” said Antetokounmpo, who had 30 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists before fouling out with 5:18 remaining in the game. “The less shots he takes, the better for us. I think guys like Eric Bledsoe Jersey China, George Hill Jersey China, Wes did a great job, not just send him to Brook, send him inside, send him to the crowd. [Harden] had a tough night and, hey, guys like that, you know, they’re going to get 20 shots up. But we gotta just try to make it as tough as possible and make his teammates make a play, not him.”

Rockets sixth man Eric Gordon Jersey China, in particular, failed to make the Bucks pay for their defensive game plan. Gordon went 4-of-19 from the floor and 3-of-12 from 3-point range, missing several good looks generated by Harden’s passes after penetrating.

“The way they play, the rest of the guys have got to step up,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s their game plan. Now, I think James will during the season be more ready to do it, but they just collapsed on James. He was finding people — had 14 assists and would have had about 20 if we hit our shots. They chose to play that way, and it worked out for them.”

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Jimmy Butler’s debut with the Miami Heat Jerseys China has been put off for a few more games.

Butler’s girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s child Wednesday night, coach Erik Spoelstra said, so the Heat’s high-profile offseason addition will not travel with the team on its two-game road trip to play the Milwaukee Bucks Jerseys China on Saturday and the Minnesota Timberwolves Jerseys China on Sunday.

Jimmy Butler Jersey China is now a proud father to a baby daughter,” Spoelstra announced Friday. “We’re thrilled for him, and we’re really excited.”

Butler, 30, missed the Heat’s home opener against the Memphis Grizzlies Jerseys China on Wednesday to be there for the child’s birth. He was present in the morning for the game-day shootaround, then told the team around midafternoon that he wasn’t going to be able to play.

Spoelstra assured reporters that “everything’s fine” and said there was no reason for concern.

The four-time All-Star was a big offseason acquisition for the Heat this past summer, agreeing to a four-year, $142 million deal in a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys China.

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NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving oozed swagger when he walked onto the court during the starting lineup announcement on Wednesday. After all, Irving viewed this — the Nets’ regular season opener — as a sort of homecoming. To mark the occasion, Irving dazzled offensively and broke four records.

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The guard finished with 50 points. When he hit 32 points, he had set a new record for most points scored in a Nets’ debut. The previous record was 30. When he hit 48 points, he set a new record for points scored in an NBA debut for any team. The previous record of 47 points was set by Kiki Vandeweghe in 1984.

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Then he hit 50. There had only been six 50-point games in Nets’ franchise history and the last one was recorded in 2012 by Deron Williams. The last player with a 50-point opener was Anthony Davis and before Davis, Michael Jordan.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Frank Vogel admitted that Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers disrupted “everything” in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 112-102 loss on opening night. But in straying from their intended pick-and-roll-heavy offense because of the Clippers’ switching schemes, Vogel believes the Lakers happened upon an effective alternative.

“The first positive is our post offense is a problem for other teams,” Vogel said Wednesday when asked to share a hopeful tidbit gleaned from the Lakers’ film session.

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The Lakers’ post offense was far more effective than any pick-based possession. It wasn’t close, really. In 30 pick plays, L.A. averaged 0.56 points per possession, well below the 2018-19 NBA average of 0.97 points on those plays, according to Second Spectrum.

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However, the Lakers’ 27 post-up plays worked out to the tune of 1.17 points per possession, which would have been the best rate in the league last season if L.A. had carried it all season, per Second Spectrum.

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Chief among the post-up targets was Anthony Davis, who posted up 22 times in his Lakers debut, according to Second Spectrum, the second-most he has posted up in a game in the past seven seasons, which is as far back as the data go.

“They couldn’t stop him,” Vogel said of Davis on the block. “So whatever works, you go to it again, and we just kept going to him.”

When the pick-and-roll gets blown up like it did Tuesday, Vogel says there are other counters L.A. can use beyond simply riding Davis.

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“We can pass and cut a lot more than we did,” he said. “We can run a lot more than we did.”

Vogel also said that when the Lakers do post up, they can space the floor around the man with the ball much better.

There are no plans to abandon the pick-and-roll. Instead, Rajon Rondo, who missed opening night with a sore calf, will be in the mix running screen-roll action in the future.

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“I envision Rajon Rondo being a major player for us this year — 25-30 minutes a game guy, whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Vogel said, adding that Rondo remains day-to-day ahead of Friday’s game against the Utah Jazz.

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Rondo, 33, averaged 9.2 points on 40.5% shooting (35.9% from 3) with 8.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds last season, his first with the Lakers. However, he had a real plus-minus of negative 3.56 points per 100 possessions, meaning that over the course of the season, L.A. seemed to lose ground when he was in the lineup.

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Vogel gave Rondo’s minutes exclusively to Quinn Cook in the opener. Cook finished with four points on 2-for-7 shooting, two assists and one turnover in 17 minutes. He missed two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter while L.A. was trying to keep pace with the Clippers. He too was dealing with a sore calf muscle, which limited his role.
Alex Caruso, who is expected to get a look in Vogel’s backcourt rotation, was available to play coming off a bruised pelvic bone in the preseason, but Vogel kept him on the bench.

All of those circumstances led to LeBron James playing 36 minutes at point guard, and he struggled down the stretch, shooting just 1-for-4 in the fourth quarter with three turnovers.

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James’ workload is another area in which Rondo figures to be a factor.

“I think when Rajon comes back, we’ll have the mindset that he can quarterback the offense with anybody that’s out there,” Vogel said.

The Lakers will apply the lessons learned from the loss to the Clippers.

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“I think getting Rajon Rondo back will put us in a lot more pick-and-rolls, but our post offense was something [the Clippers] had to deal with,” Vogel said. “We were heavier in the post than maybe we will be throughout the season because of it being effective for us, but we continue to make sure we have a diverse package out there.”

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Kyrie Irving goes up for a layup Wednesday in his regular-season debut with the Brooklyn Nets. Irving scored 50 points in an overtime loss to the Timberwolves. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images
But it wasn’t a hiccup-less inaugural Nets game for Irving. Brooklyn fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-126 in overtime. Mid-game doldrums came in the form of turnovers and missed free throws.

Even as the Nets began to spiral towards a 0-1 record, Irving got a warm reception from fans. Irving was introduced last in the starting lineup — a basketball honor reserved for a team’s long tenured star. He has been given a corner locker in the Nets’ locker room — another league-wide symbol of stature.

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The Barclays Center crowd erupted when Irving sank his first basket. Every time he charged towards the basket after that, fans would let out an audible “ooh” or gasp. Irving appeared determined to dazzle, throwing somewhat haphazard and unnecessary behind-the-back passes minutes into the first quarter.