Associated Press

Joel Embiid sparks 76ers to first three-game win streak in three years

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid scored 24 points, blocked three shots and led the Philadelphia 76ers to their third straight victory, 102-93 over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

The Sixers are on their first three-game winning streak since they won four straight from Dec. 29, 2013 – Jan. 4, 2014. Led by Embiid, the Sixers have won five of six games overall and are no longer the league laughingstock.

Embiid made six of 12 shots, grabbed eight rebounds and has made basketball fun again in Philadelphia. Embiid waved his arms while fans chanted “Trust the Process!” at him at the free-throw line. Embiid, the rookie center, even heard “MVP!” chants in the final minutes for his role in transforming the Sixers over the last month from cellar dwellers to a competitive team.

Embiid’s only weakness was his 0-for-5 3-point shooting.

Nicolas Batum scored 19 points and Kemba Walker had 17 for the Hornets.

Embiid has brightened the Sixers’ outlook the same way he lights up social media.

Embiid and WWE star Triple H (Hunter Hearst Helmsley) became social media friends this week and exchanged friendly tweets. Embiid said he was a fan of the wrestler and used his pregame intro to mimic Triple H.

Embiid walked out to the wrestler’s theme music, “The Game,” by Motorhead, cocked his head back and spewed water into the air like Triple H would before a main event WrestleMania bout.

Triple H noticed and tweeted at Embiid, “Still have to perfect the water-to-spit ratio…Not bad for a first attempt. (hash)MopTheFloor (hash)NBAVote Joel Embiid.”

Embiid has used social media to enhance his profile, build his fan base and keep himself in contention for an All-Star spot. Embiid got the block-and-wrestling connection rolling this week when he tweeted a photo of himself with his hands around teammate T.J. McConnell‘s neck and wrote, “I learned this by watching you, (at)TripleH.”

Triple H tweeted back, “To play the game you gotta go through The Process … (hash)NBAVote.”

“That was amazing,” Embiid said before the game.

Embiid said he wanted to use Twitter to have fun.

“Everything I do on social media is really funny to me,” Embiid said. “I think I have the best laugh out of everybody.”

Embiid had fun earlier in the day with a quote from Miami Heat star Hassan Whiteside, who said All-Star voting was a “gimmick” and players just “make jokes on Twitter” to get votes. Embiid retweeted the quote and wrote “Hassan Whiteside (hash)NBAVote.”

“One thing is, I want to be myself,” Embiid said. “I’m not going to change for anybody. I never hit the delete button. If I have something in my mind and I want to say it, I’m going to say it.”

Embiid has had no regrets about any of his 2,270 tweets; even when he’s tried to score dates with A-list starlets or the time he doctored a tweet to make it look like President-elect Donald Trump cast an All-Star vote for him.

“In the back of my head, I think this is going to backfire at some point,” Embiid said. “When that day comes, I’m going to stop.”

The Sixers don’t mind as long as Embiid saves his best output for games.

He might have scarred Cody Zeller with two monster blocks on the Charlotte center. Embiid swatted Zeller’s two-handed jam attempt in the second quarter. Embiid swooped in from the left side and rejected Zeller’s throw-down attempt down the lane in the third.

Walker’s first half was a dud. Walker, making his own social media All-Star push with a campaign that parodies Chuck Norris’ “Walker, Texas Ranger” TV show, missed 11 of 13 shots in the first half and all four 3s. He hit a 3 in the third quarter that fueled a Charlotte run and got it to 52-50 after not leading at all in the first half.

Robert Covington and Ersan Ilyasova buried 3s and the Sixers pushed the lead back to double digits.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Batum made 7 of 14 shots after missing two games with a hyperextended right knee. … Zeller, who sat out the last game against Houston with an illness, couldn’t have felt good after getting blocked twice by Embiid. He had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sixers: C Jahlil Okafor, last season’s leading scorer, received yet another DNP-CD.

 

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.