Devin Booker

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Three Things to Know: It’s Joel Embiid’s world, Lonzo Ball has to live in it

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Battle of the young point guards turns into career night for Joel Embiid, who dominates. Don’t make Joel Embiid angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry… unless you’re a Sixers fan. Embiid had a Twitter beef with LaVar Ball, that (as has happened to him more than once) Lonzo Ball got sucked into but tried to avoid.

There were a lot of steps in the process, but it included Embiid getting a $10,000 fine for language from the league for saying “f*** LaVar Ball” on his Instagram account after LaVar was on a Philly radio station saying the crap he always said. Before the Sixers and Lakers met for the first time, Embiid said it was “all love” and just for fun.

Then he went out and destroyed the Lakers Wednesday night — 46 points on 14-of-20 shooting, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks. The Lakers defended him (Andrew Bogut got a lot of extra run in that role), but he was 8-of-10 on contested looks. It was a historic stat line, and they weren’t empty calories — Philadelphia was +19 in Embiid’s 34 minutes and -13 when he was on the bench. Apparently, 69 percent of Embiid is this good.

WHAT A NIGHT !!!!! #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Ben Simmons dominated the point guard battle with 19 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. The Lakers matched their own star rookie on Simmons — Kyle Kuzma. Who did you think we were talking about? Kuzma had a career-best 24 points, and Brandon Ingram had 26. They kept the Lakers in it.

Lonzo Ball had 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting, with 2 assists and 5 rebounds. It’s been a rough week for the Ball family, on and off the court. Maybe that quiets LaVar for a while… Nah, that’s just the dream, it won’t happen.

This was a game won inside the arc as the teams combined to shoot 10-of-52 from three, and that included an uncharacteristic 0-of-8 from deep for J.J. Redick.

The Sixers looked like a playoff team and the kind of team on the rise the Lakers still aspire to be. Mostly though, consider this a reminder that Joel Embiid can be a dominant force, and it turns out he plays well angry and motivated.

2) Sixers also about to make Robert Covington quite wealthy. When the Philadelphia brass talks about their young core, they talk Simmons and Embiid and the injured No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, but they also always mention Robert Covington. When Sam Hinkie was just rotating cheap contract young players through the end of the bench (rather than putting a solid veteran or two on the roster), he was panning for gold. The Sixers found something in Covington as “3&D” specialist, who at age 26 is just entering his prime.

Now they are going to pay him a lot of gold. The Sixers and Covington are about to agree to a renegotiation and extension that will pay him about $62 million over this season and the next four. While the details are not yet known, the 76ers can bump his salary up to $16.7 million for this season (using existing cap space), then extend him off of that. Which sounds like the plan (if you want the salary details, our own Dan Feldman has them here).

Good for Covington, and smart of the Sixers to lock up another quality player, they still have cap space and flexibility going forward.

3) We spent much of Wednesday looking forward to Thursday in the NBA. Thursday night is going to be must-watch television for the NBA.

The first TNT game is the Golden State Warriors going into Boston for a showdown of the top teams in each conference right now. Call this a potential Finals preview if you want, although LeBron James will have his say about that. The Celtics have won 13 in a row and have the best defense in the NBA. The Warriors have won seven in a row, all by double-digits, and the best offense in the league, and have looked like their dominating selves again. Consider this a measuring stick game for the Celtics — we know what the Warriors are and what they will be come the playoffs, but the Celtics are still figuring that out about themselves. Boston as beaten Toronto and Milwaukee and San Antonio during its streak, but Golden State is something else entirely. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have looked great, but going against Kevin Durant and Draymond Green is a different level of challenge. The crowd in Boston will be pumped, but will one of the Warriors’ patented third quarter runs turn this game into another comfortable win for the champs?

The late TNT game doesn’t look like much, the Rockets should handle the Suns easily despite Devin Booker putting up good numbers, but it became far more interesting with the news Wednesday that Chris Paul will return to the Rockets lineup for the game. CP3 will start next to James Harden and play about 20 minutes, coming off resting a sore knee. We haven’t seen Paul since a rough opening night of the season when he didn’t look himself, now we can see where he stands and how he starts to mesh with Harden.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics on top, Spurs move into top five

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The top four in our power rankings did not change this week and the teams just kept on winning — including 13 in a row for Boston, but that will be tested Thursday night when they face the Warriors. The Wizards were the big climbers this week, jumping from 16 to 8 (although I may have had them a little low the week before).

Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (13-2, Last Week No. 1). Brad Stevens is getting a lot of praise from front offices around the league because his Celtics team loses Al Horford for a couple of games, Kyrie Irving gets his face busted by Aron Baynes, and they keep on finding ways to win. Boston keeps on doing it with defense, which remains the best in the NBA. The Celtics have passed every test so far, but the Thursday one against the Warriors is the biggest yet in a young season.

Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (11-3 LW 2). They have won seven in a row and all by double digits, and during that stretch they have the best offense and second best defense in the NBA (it was the D that got off to the slow start). Here’s the scary thing, so far the Warriors have played the second toughest schedule in the NBA, and that doesn’t change Thursday with the Celtics on the docket.

Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (11-4, Last Week No. 3). The top two players in three-point attempts this season so far are James Harden and Eric Gordon (Stephan Curry is third). Harden has made at least five threes in six straight NBA games, which is a record. Chris Paul should return in the next week or two, but Mike D’Antoni has to find a way to keep using the Rockets’ starting five — Harden, Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela — which is outscoring opponents by 25.7 points per 100.

Pistons small icon 4. Pistons (10-3, LW 4). Tobias Harris is having the best start to his career and it all starts at the arc — he has nearly doubled the number of threes he’s taking (3.8 per game last season, 6.4 per game, and it’s hitting 50.6 percent this season. Also, Andre Drummond has grabbed at least a dozen rebounds in every Piston’s game this season, confirming he is the best rebounder in the NBA.

Spurs small icon 5. Spurs (9-5, LW 7). San Antonio went 4-2 on a recent homestand (the Warriors and Bucks were the losses), which has helped them hold on to a playoff slot while we wait for the return of Kawhi Leonard (still no timetable, but “sooner rather than later” is the new word). After a rough start to the season with more isolation than they wanted, on the homestand the Spurs got the ball moving again, averaging 313.8 passes per game (same as the Warriors in that stretch). That has sparked their offense. Even without Leonard the Spurs are fifth in defense.

6. Timberwolves (8-5, LW 5). On the surface they look like they are off to a good start to the season — winning record, great young talent — but if their 26th in the NBA defense, which is 29th if you remove garbage time (as the site Cleaning the Glass does) things will go south. The most concerning thing: Minny’s defense is 10.9 points per 100 possessions worse when Karl-Anthony Towns is on the court. He is still struggling on that end. Andrew Wiggins takes a lot of heat for his D from Timberwolves fans, but the team defense is 5 points per 100 better when he is on the court.

Raptors small icon 7. Raptors (8-5, LW 9). They are moving the ball more and isolating less, but they are still a team that scores on the drive — they average 28.2 points per game on drives, the most in the NBA. The Raptors’ five losses are the Warriors, Spurs, underrated Nuggets, Wizards, and Celtics — they had beaten the team they were supposed to but needed a marquee win, and they got it putting up 129 on the Rockets Tuesday night. OG Anunoby has been a find.

Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (8-5, LW 16). The Wizards move up this week because they feasted on a soft part of their schedule, winning 3-of-4 on a homestand. It’s a good sign that they are at least taking lesser teams seriously. Now the schedule gets harder: 11-of-14 on the road with a lot of playoff teams in the mix is up next, starting with a home-and-home vs. the Heat.

Pelicans small icon 9. Pelicans (8-6 LW 13). The DeMarcus Cousins/Anthony Davis pairing continues to thrive — they are both averaging more than 26 points and 11 rebounds per game (which is a historic pace for teammates, if they can sustain it). Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup in limited minutes on Monday, as he works his way back into shape Alvin Gentry needs to find some perimeter rotations that can help out that strong front line. Darius Miller has earned some extra run with his performances.

Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (8-6, LW 14). Nikola Jokic is having a fast start to the season and the reason is he is trusting his three-ball. Jokic is nearly doubling the number of threes he took per game last season (1.9 up to 3.6) but the key is he is hitting 41.2 percent this season (up from 32.4 percent last season). Denver moved up the rankings going 5-1 on a homestand, but Monday’s loss at Portland is the first of 11-of-15 on the road.

Knicks small icon 11. Knicks (7-6, LW 8). The Knicks thought they had a signature win Monday night against Cleveland, only to blow a 23-point lead and take a punch to the gut. I know that coach Jeff Hornacek likes his center rotation of Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn, but he played Kristaps Porzingis there at the end of the Orlando game, I’d like to see more of that.

Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (7-6, LW 11). The big news for the Sixers this week is Robert Covington can sign a new contract extension, and expect the Sixers to make him a happy man with a healthy payday in the next few days. The Sixers are 2-2 on a five-game road trip that ends in Los Angeles Wednesday (one loss was an ugly one to the Kings), then the Sixers are home for six straight.

Magic small icon 13. Magic (8-6, LW 10). It’s still a little strange to type this, but Aaron Gordon continues to kill it from three, shooting 53.7 percent this season, best in the NBA. The Magic are improved on both ends of the court this season, but are 1-2 on their current road trip, with 5-of-7 on the road still to go.

Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (7-6 LW 12). Portland has the third best defense in the NBA this season, and with that should have a better record than they do so far (they have the point differential of a 9-4 team). What’s holding them back is a middle of the pack offense, and the reason is they get the fewest points out of transition in the league. The Blazers need to play a little faster and get some easy baskets.

Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (7-6, LW 6). I like the move to start Dillon Brooks over Andrew Harrison, but it does not change the momentum of a team that has lost 5-of-7, with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol struggling with their shot. The most impressive thing about Memphis this season has been the strong play of its bench, led by Tyreke Evans.

Bucks small icon 16. Bucks (7-6 LW 23). Winners of three in a row since Eric Bledsoe arrived, although none of those wins was particularly pretty. What he has brought is a willingness to push the pace more — a team with the Greek Freak and a defense designed to create turnovers shouldn’t be 26th in the league in pace. On Saturday the Bucks head out for 5-of-6 on the road.

Heat small icon 17. Heat (6-7, LW 24). The Heat had a solid 3-3 road trip, one where they played good defense, allowing less than a point per possession during the trip. Problem is they also scored less than a point per possession. Still, that road trip felt closer to the Heat team from the second half of last season than we have seen yet this season.

Cavaliers small icon 18. Cavaliers (7-7 LW 20). Kevin Love playing the five has been an experiment that has not always looked good, but Love has finished better at the rim — 70.8 in the restricted area this season — than at any point in his career. LeBron James has played more regular season games now than Michael Jordan, is in his 15th NBA season, yet leads the NBA in 38.1 minutes played per game. He’s been phenomenal in those minutes – because the Cavs need him to be — but that’s a heavy load.

Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (6-7 LW 21).. The Thunder have a couple wins in a row, which happened for two reasons. First, because Paul George went off for 42 and 37 in those games to carry a struggling offense. The other reason for the wins is the Thunder played the Clippers (six game losing streak and then a Dallas team that is last in the Western Conference. Maybe the Thunder needed a couple easy wins as slumpbusters, just any wins to turn the team around, and with Chicago up next the streak could well reach three wins.

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (5-7, LW 15). They have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far this season. The Hornets start fast, outscoring teams by 6.9 points per 100 in the first quarter, but they get outscored by 6.3 per 100 in the fourth, which has them blowing leads and losing ugly (like leading by 12 in the forth to Boston and losing).

Lakers small icon 21. Lakers (6-8 LW 18). What’s impressive is the Lakers have the fourth best defense in the NBA this season, which is shocking after years of horrid defense from the team. They are defending well in the half court, with Brook Lopez playing a key role in the paint, but they struggle defending in transition (20th in NBA according to Cleaning the Glass). The offense, like Lonzo Ball’s shot, needs a lot of work.

Pacers small icon 22. Pacers (6-8, LW 19). Myles Turner returned to the lineup, and since then the Pacers are 1-6 with the fifth worst defense in the NBA. Turner hasn’t seemed himself since returning from injury, but the Pacers are doing a poor job of getting him the ball in the spots he wants. It’s hard to find positives, outside of Victor Oladipo’s in-game 360 dunk.

Clippers small icon 23. Clippers (5-8 LW 17). Losers of six in a row and 7-of-8, and the key reason is their defense has fallen apart. The Clippers are allowing 113.8 points per 100 in their last six games, worst in the NBA. Injuries — games lost for Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, and Patrick Beverley — has exacerbated the problems for this team.

Jazz small icon 24. Jazz (6-8, LW 22). Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month after Dion Waiters crashed into his knee, and the Jazz could be in real trouble — in their second game without him the Timberwolves pounded Utah inside. It doesn’t get easier, Utah’s schedule for the next month is brutal. The Jazz need to find a way to get wins and not slide out of the playoff picture in the crowded West while Gobert is out.

Nets small icon 25. Nets (5-9, LW 25). After the past few seasons it’s strange to type this, but the Nets are fun to watch. This is a scrappy, if not good, team. The Nets suffered a blow when D’Angelo Russell tweaked his knee, he is now out for a while and that means more Spencer Dinwiddie at the point, and Caris LeVert doing some playmaking as well.

Suns small icon 26. Suns (5-10, LW 26). That bump the Suns got after firing Earl Watson and replacing him with Jay Triano — winning 4-of-5 — is over, Phoenix has dropped 6-of-7 since. In those seven games the Suns have a bottom 10 offense and defense, and have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions. Devin Booker puts up numbers, but Phoenix desperately needs a playmaker to put next to him.

Kings small icon 27. Kings (3-10, LW 28). While George Hill had a good game against the Wizards Monday, for much of this season he has struggled and rookie De’Aaron Fox has been as good or better. Fox shows real promise. A young guns lineup for the Kings — Fox, Buddy Held, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein — has only played 21 minutes together this season, and it hasn’t been great (-9.8 per 100) but I would like to see more of it. This is a developmental year in Sacramento.

Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (2-9 LW 27). Since returning from suspension, Bobby Portis is averaging 19.3 points and 10 rebounds a game. It’s going to be awkward when Nicola Mirotic eventually returns to practices and the lineup, but with Portis playing this well he is going to get a lot of run. The Bulls have lost 6-of-7 and have 5 of their next six on the road.

Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (2-12, LW 29). Ersan Ilyasova is back healthy and will come off the bench for Atlanta on Wednesday against the Kings. The Hawks have gotten help from some unexpected places, for example Luke Babbitt is shooting the ball well and that is opening things up for Dennis Schroder. Also, rookie John Collins is averaging 10.4 points per game shooting 50.4 percent, is grabbing 7.2 rebounds a night, and has a PER of 18.9 that is the best on the team among regular rotation players.

Mavericks small icon 30. Mavericks (2-13 LW 30). With his second made basket Friday against Minnesota, Dirk Nowitzki will pass Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time made baskets list. Nowitzki passed Olajuwon in points three seasons ago to become the all-time leading scorer among international players. Nowitzki said he will let his body — and not the Mavs record — determine if he will come back for one more season after this one.

Devin Booker confronts Lakers bench after Brian Shaw reportedly tells Suns guard to stop flopping

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The Suns were on their way to a 100-93 loss to the Lakers last night when Devin Booker got frustrated.

During a late stoppage, Booker walked toward the Los Angeles before both sides were separated.

Booker, via Scott Bordow of azcentral:

“It was one of the coaches,” Booker said, adding that it wasn’t head coach Luke Walton or assistants Brian Shaw or Miles Simon. “I don’t know who it was.”

Booker declined to say what was said to him – “I’m not here to tell on anybody” – but in his mind the words were irrelevant.

“If you’re not my coach I don’t know you,” Booker said. “Don’t say anything to me.”

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Maybe Booker didn’t see who said it and thought it was someone other than Shaw. Maybe Booker is just trying to protect Shaw publicly. Maybe Gambadoro has his info wrong.

But Shaw has no problem talking to opposing players.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough: Eric Bledsoe mad about not getting contract renegotiation-and-extension

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What’s the root of Eric Bledsoe‘s feud with the Suns?

Them tanking during his prime years? Him requesting a trade? Their harsh response? Him seemingly making that request public? Him lying about it? Them accusing him of lying about it?

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, via Arizona Sports 98.7 FM:

“Eric (was) eligible for a renegotiation and extension of his contract … with two years left on his contract, we did not feel like that was something that made sense for the team. We told Eric and his representatives that was something that we were potentially open to discussing next summer with one year left on his deal. I guess they didn’t like that answer and took kind of a hostile approach and kind of shut down and distanced themselves from the team. I think that’s where the approach came from.”

The NBA’s rapidly rising salary cap and new Collective Bargaining Agreement have created fertile conditions for renegotiations and extensions. In an attempt to limit potential distractions, the CBA says players with multiple seasons remaining on their contracts – like Bledsoe – can’t sign extensions during the regular season.

That clearly backfired here, Bledsoe not getting his deal then taking his grudge into the season. There’s just so much more at stake now.

Bledsoe is set to earn $14.5 million this season and $15.5 million next season.

If it were a few years ago, Phoenix would be under the previous CBA and likely capped out. Bledsoe’s max extension would have been two years, $33,459,375. At that point, he probably would have preferred to play out his contract then sign a new deal in 2019 free agency.

Under the current CBA and with the Suns holding $12,332,363 in cap space, Bledsoe was eligible for a $25,651,315 raise over the next two seasons plus a three-year extension that projects to be worth $105 million and could be worth up to $110,104,086, depending where the 2019-20 salary cap lands.

This isn’t to say Bledsoe demanded the full amount, but his agent, Rich Paul, has a history of aggressive negotiations.

Without knowing Bledsoe’s exact request, the Suns were probably wise to decline. They’re rebuilding around younger players like Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. Preemptively paying Bledsoe into his 30s would have likely been a setback.

But this is the downside – an unhappy player and chemistry problems.

Ability to sign players to contract extensions has varied over multiple CBAs. Owners want to limit players’ ability to demand new deals whenever they please. Maybe Bledsoe’s situation will be an isolated incident. But if other players use the more-lenient extension rules to pine for extensions then gripe if they don’t get one, this could get revisited when the next CBA is negotiated.

Report: When Eric Bledsoe requested trade, Suns told him they underperformed with him as starting PG

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Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has been extremely harsh publicly to Eric Bledsoe.

The organization apparently wasn’t much kinder privately when Bledsoe requested a trade before the season.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

The 27-year-old point guard had met with Suns owner Robert Sarver and McDonough during the preseason and requested a trade, sources told ESPN. Frustrated with the direction of the team, its whiffs in free agency and questionable personnel moves during his four years with the franchise, Bledsoe expressed that it was time he moved on, sources said. Bledsoe was then told by management, according to sources, that the team had underperformed ever since he was given starting point guard responsibilities.

The Suns have struggled since trading Goran Dragic to make Bledsoe the clear starting point guard, but they mainly got draft picks that have yet to convey for Dragic. They also traded Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Isaiah Thomas for primarily draft picks. Their expensive acquisitions – Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley – have underwhelmed. Their young players, even Devin Booker, haven’t yet learned the nuances necessary to contribute to winning. They’ve finished seasons tanking.

In other words, Phoenix has given Bledsoe a supporting cast ill-equipped to win then apparently blamed him for not winning.

This report appears to be coming through the lens of Bledsoe’s camp. McDonough and Sarver might portray the conversation differently.

But if this is a glimpse of how Bledsoe feels, no wonder he wants out.