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.

 

David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.