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Embiid has Philadelphia hitting ‘like’ button on 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The headline reads like it was ripped straight from a fake news website: Philadelphia 76ers win for fourth time in five games! The headline reads like it was ripped straight from a fake news website: Philadelphia 76ers win for fourth time in five games!

The veracity of that claim has been verified – the Sixers, yes those topflight tankers that made a sham of competitive basketball – are actually winning games.

So what?

Time to dance !

Joel Embiid would not let a sprained left ankle stop him from busting a move on the court. He crashed the 76ers dance team’s postgame celebration and flailed his arms in the air like one of those wacky, waving inflatable air dancers stuck at car dealerships. Embiid was all smiles after the Sixers rallied from 10 down with 2:29 left to beat the New York Knicks on T.J. McConnell‘s jumper at the horn.

Embiid, a social media darling, has hit the “like” button on Philly’s future.

“Playoff time, baby,” Embiid said.

Hold up.

Don’t download those postseason tickets just yet. Embiid, the 7-foot center with an affinity for Shirley Temples, has added a splash of fun in his long-delayed rookie year and has at least made the Sixers compelling this season.

Embiid has generated the kind of buzz through his celebrity crushes (hello, Rhianna!) and celebrity fans (hi, Mike Trout!), and he’s become the Ellen of the 76ers with a victory dance in big moments.

Because of Embiid, the Sixers are finally finding those big moments.

Even with playing-time restrictions forced on him, Embiid has helped the Sixers win 11 times this season, one more win already than all of last season. Embiid has played in 26 of 36 games and leads the Sixers in scoring (19.4 ppg), blocks (60), rebounds (7.5), and hit 29 3-pointers. His 52 assists have helped the team PA announcer proclaim, “the feed from Embiid” at times in the Wells Fargo Center.

Already a fan favorite before he played a game, Embiid had adopted “The Process” as a nickname and is introduced as such as part of the pregame lineup festivities. Embiid waves his arms and exhorts fans to get louder as they chant “Trust the Process!” – the hackeyned nickname coined under the old Sam Hinkie era when tanking games (not winning them) was the theme of the organization.

“Rookie of the year would be great,” Embiid said. “I don’t think it’s going to help me to get to my crush. Hopefully, the All-Star (bid) gets to do that.”

The Sixers have orchestrated a social media push to get Embiid into the All-Star game. Embiid has long been a fan of Shirley Temples, the alcohol-free concoction of lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry, and the Sixers sold the drink as part of a promotional push to get him an All-Star spot.

Embiid was fourth among frontcourt players with 457,300 fan votes in the latest round of All-Star totals released Thursday. He needs to crack the top three to earn an Eastern Conference starting spot and was 16,028 votes shy of Cleveland’s Kevin Love for third.

As protective of the Sixers have been of Embiid’s health, the team still wants him in the All-Star game.

There’s still a harsh reality check facing the organization as it moves closer toward the Feb. 23 trade deadline. The Sixers still have one too many starting centers and the Embiid-Jahlil Okafor combination was a flop. Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft and last season’s leading scorer has been benched. He sat against the Knicks for his fourth DNP-CD in the last six games.

“I’m just trying to do my part to make sure it all works out,” Okafor said.

Nerlens Noel has been solid and the best bet to team at power forward with Embiid. Ersan Ilyasova had made everyone better and was a major coup for team president Bryan Colangelo. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall draft pick, has been strong in his comeback from a broken right foot and he could make his season debut within the month. The Sixers, though, have not put a timetable on his return. He competed in 5-on-0 drills this week for the first time and has recently started traveling with the Sixers.

Coach Brett Brown may have his best team in four seasons but the Sixers are well out of the playoff picture. Their 4-1 streak (on two buzzer-beaters ) came against sub.-500 teams Denver, Minnesota, Brooklyn and the Knicks. They play teams with .500 or above records in eight of the next nine games. Embiid, who sat out two seasons with a broken right foot, has a 28-minute per game restriction and doesn’t play a full set of back-to-backs. He’ll start Friday against Charlotte and sit Saturday at Washington.

Embiid-Simmons-Noel could be the trio that maybe next season leads the Sixers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“When you really set the bar as high as we have, there is a lot left to be learned. And done,” Brown said. “It’s a heck of a lot clearer now than it ever was.”

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.