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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.”

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.

 

Frustrated fan: John McEnroe says Knicks a ‘total train wreck’

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NEW YORK (AP) — John McEnroe had a ringside seat for the ugliest bout at Madison Square Garden last season.

He was sitting just feet away when former Knicks star Charles Oakley was surrounded by security officials at his seat, shoving them away before being handcuffed and arrested while watching a game in February.

Even before that, the tennis great had begun to lose patience with his favorite team.

“It’s like a total train wreck,” McEnroe said.

The low point during a miserable 2016-17 season came when Oakley was dragged out of MSG in the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. A fan favorite as a player, he had fallen out of favor with the organization in retirement after critical comments about the team and MSG chairman James Dolan.

McEnroe, who often travels for his tennis or other obligations, wasn’t aware of the history between Oakley and Dolan.

“I didn’t even realize at the time that Charles had said bad things about him,” McEnroe said. “I hadn’t been up on that, so it wasn’t awkward for me when he sort of poked me in my back, Charles, right before the incident happened. I was like, `Hey Charles, how are you? This is my son, Kevin.’ He was with me.

“So I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and I didn’t know what had happened or really what had transpired,” he said. “So maybe Jim was already uncomfortable because of past history or whatever and then when Charles and the security guys started to go at it, even before they started to come up to him I was like, `Uh oh, this is not going to go well, at all.”‘

McEnroe is clearly visible in replays of the skirmish that were shown that night and throughout the next day.

“To see Charles Oakley have handcuffs put on him was horrible. Like, I was sick to my stomach, as well as almost every other fan that was in there watching this as it took place,” McEnroe said. “I bet you Jim Dolan – this is just my opinion – had to feel terrible about what that was.”

McEnroe grew up in and still lives in New York, and considers MSG his home arena. The inside cover of his new book, “But Seriously,” is decorated with ticket stubs from games and concerts at the arena, including a Knicks playoff game. But like many Knicks fans, he’s getting fed up with what he sees.

“I mean I’ve been a Knicks fan since I was a kid, so this is just getting beyond belief,” he said.

McEnroe has owned a home in Malibu, California, for more than 30 years. He often trained in Los Angeles as one of the world’s top players during the early-to-mid 1980s, befriending Lakers executive Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis, whose husband Kurt played for the great Lakers teams of that era that were led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Watching this was like, I’m sitting there going, why the hell am I a Knick fan again?” McEnroe said, “because this is just absolutely unbelievable, watching Showtime.”

Dolan hired Phil Jackson, who won five titles as Lakers coach, as Knicks president in 2014. But the team has missed the playoffs every season under Jackson, who feuded with Carmelo Anthony last season and didn’t speak to reporters at all while the team went 31-51.

“I mean, he’s known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he’s not talking to anybody,” McEnroe said of Jackson. “So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails.”

Jackson is still hoping to trade Anthony, who has a no-trade clause. McEnroe said he was never the biggest fan of Anthony’s game, but that the All-Star forward didn’t deserve the treatment he received last season.

“It’s crazy to treat a guy that way,” McEnroe said. “It seems like, even if it would be better for both guys if they weren’t there – the Knicks and him – the whole thing just seems, I can’t believe how bungled this has gotten.”

Chris Paul re-elected president of the NBPA

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NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Paul has been re-elected president of the National Basketball Players Association.

Paul’s new four-year term begins immediately. He will be assisted by the union’s newly elected vice president, Garrett Temple of the Sacramento Kings.

In his first term as president, Paul most notably helped the players and the NBA come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that goes into effect on July 1.

Paul says he’s “humbled that my fellow players have voted to have me continue.”

Temple has a three-year term as vice president, which also begins immediately. He replaces Kyle Korver in that role.

The other members of the NBA’s Executive Committee are First Vice President LeBron James, Secretary-Treasurer James Jones, and Vice Presidents Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Pau Gasol and Anthony Tolliver.