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.

 

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

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.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.