Friday Night NBA Grades: What tanking? Sixers, Suns both 2-0.

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Our grades from Thursday night around the NBA, or what you missed while trying to get that cat urine smell out of your computer….

source:  Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers. Something funny happened on the way to the lottery… the Sixers and Suns, two of the poster teams for the tanking/riggin’ for Wiggins efforts, are both undefeated. Phoenix picked up a dramatic victory over another tanktastic team in Utah thanks to a dramatic Eric Bledsoe game winning three. The Sixers have now beaten the Heat and Wizards, the latter thanks to 29 points on 14-of-20 shooting by Thaddeus Young. Neither of these teams can sustain this and make the playoffs, but credit the players for busting it and playing hard, that will get you some wins.

source:  James Harden, Houston Rockets. The Mavericks had no answer for Harden, who had 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting, leading to Houston to a comfortable win over Dallas. It was a game without much flow but when Dallas would start to make a run Harden would make a play — with the Mavs having cut the lead to 8 late in the third quarter Harden attacked into three Dallas defenders and got the and-1 to make the lead 11 again. In the fourth he basically iced the game when he attacked Dirk Nowitzki in transition and fouled him out while putting the Rockets up by 13. Sorry Kobe and Dwyane, Harden is the best two guard in the game now.

source:  New Orleans Pelicans defense. The Pelicans were not really impressive at either end of the court, but they let the lowly Magic shoot 55.7 overall and hit 11-of-22 from three (that’s an eFG% of 63.6). The Magic had an offensive rating of 114.7 points per 100 possessions (remember the Heat were the best in the league last year at 110.3). Aaron Afflalo dropped 30 (on 14 shots), but the real key was a 35-point first quarter by the Magic where Jameer Nelson hit a couple threes and Nikola Vucevic faced up Jason Smith and went 3-of-3 on him. The Pelicans were better defensively in their first game, but this was a bad night, we’ll see which is the real New Orleans team (with a young team expect a few nights like this).

source:  Brooklyn Nets offense. With a veteran team we expected Brooklyn could have good ball movement, but what we wondered is if guys would move off the ball, if the ball might stick too much at times. It didn’t against the Heat — there was a real fluidity to the Nets offense that was able to counter and get good looks against the aggressive defense. If their offense can build on this and keep moving the rock like this all season and into the playoffs the Nets start to look a whole lot more dangerous.

Sixers’ Joel Embiid upgraded to “probable,” will decide after warm ups

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day. Embiid had been out with a concussion and orbital bone fracture.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.