Kurt Helin

Watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar receive Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is almost an underrated NBA legend. On the court there are six titles, six MVPs, Finals MVPs 14 years apart, 19 All-Star appearances, and he’s scored more points than anyone in the history of the game, often using one of the game’s most signature shots. Off the court, he’s been a historian of the game, as well as a noted voice speaking about race issues and being a Muslim in America.

Tuesday, President Barack Obama recognized Abdul-Jabbar for his leadership by awarding him the Medal of Freedom (along with Michael Jordan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Robert DiNero, and a host of other deserving folks). Here is what the president said about Abdul-Jabbar.

“…as a surprisingly similar-looking co-pilot, Roger Murdock, once said in the movie Airplane — I mean, we’ve got some great actors here: Space Jam, Airplane — he did it all while dragging [Bill] Walton and [Bob] Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.

“But the reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook. He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence about patriotism. Physically, intellectually, spiritually, Kareem is one of a kind: an American who illuminates both our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”

PBT Podcast: Lakers talk — playoffs ?!? — with Baxter Holmes of ESPN

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The biggest surprise of the NBA season? The Los Angeles Lakers are fun to watch.

They are also 7-7, and it’s not crazy to mention the words “playoffs” and “Lakers” in the same sentence. Luke Walton has changed the attitude around the team and a few players — Julius Randle and Nick Young, most notably — have benefited and made significant strides under the new coach.

Baxter Holmes, who covers the Lakers for ESPN, joins Kurt Helin to discuss Walton, D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Young, and the rest of the young Lakers. What is going right in Los Angeles? And what does this mean for the tenure of Jim Buss running the Lakers’ basketball operations end?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Three things we learned Monday: Don’t say the Sixers suck anymore

Associated Press
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We know you spent Monday night mesmerized by the LeBron/Hamilton send up, so here is what you could have learned watching a full slate of NBA games…

1) Sixers have won four in a row at home, 3-of-4 overall. You can stop mocking them now. The Philadelphia 76ers are a real basketball team.

Not a real good team, mind you, they remain last in the Eastern Conference. But they are a competitive team now — and one on a winning streak. With Monday night’ s 101-94 win over Miami the Sixers have won consecutive games for the first time since March 2015 (it didn’t happen last season). They have won three-of-four overall and four in a row at home. If you want to get overly optimistic, they are 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the East. But that’s a bit much. Still, they are no longer the worst team in the NBA (that honor goes to Dallas), and every night they put up a fight.

Philadelphia has the guy in the lead of the entirely-too-early-to-discuss Rookie of the Year race with Joel Embiid, who is averaging 18.4 points and 7.8 rebounds a game in limited minutes every night. Monday night “The Process” faced off against Hassan Whiteside — who somewhat quietly is having a monster season — and held his own.

Embiid has work to do — his moves still can be a bit stiff, like the guy spent the last two years practicing them against chairs and 6’2” coaches. The big man is getting 35 percent of his looks off post ups and is shooting just 42 percent on those, which is pretty average but below where he can get (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is shooting just 57.1 percent in the restricted area right at the rim, a little below where the Sixers want him to be. That said, he is dangerous as a roll man after setting the pick — he has an eFG% of 64 percent in that situation, in part because he can knock down the three. Embiid is 11-of-22 from three this season.

Here is the stat that matters: The Sixers are nine points per 100 possessions better when Embiid is on the court (and around Christmas the team will look at raising his minutes limit of 25). When he gets help from veteran Gerald Henderson (19 points vs. Miami) or Nik Stauskas, the Sixers can put up some points. At least enough to be competitive and win some games.

The little hot streak the Sixers are on likely comes to an end with their next four games being against Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto. But you can bet they will be competitive in those games, too.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo is killing it as a point guard for the Bucks. This season Jason Kidd put the ball in the hands of his Greek Freak and turned him loose — and it has worked. Don’t take my word for it, ask Orlando as Antetokounmpo dropped a triple-double on them with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists (he also had five steals and three blocks).

On the season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game, shooting 49.3 percent, and he has the PER of an All-Star at 24.8. On the downside, he is shooting just 16.7 percent from three, his midrange jumper strikes fear in no one, and teams are going under picks on him and clogging the middle. Still, you see the room to grow. You could tell in the win Monday that he is the leader — when he plays with energy, particularly on defense, the rest of the team follows.

As a side note: Maybe the most interesting lineup Kidd rolled out Monday (and one that had a 16-2 run early in the fourth) was a small ball with Antetokounmpo, Mirza Teletovic, and Michael Beasley as the bigs. Jabari Parker is playing too well to do that all the time, but it was a good change of pace.

3) Gregg Popovich wants the Spurs to respect the game. The Spurs won Monday night, beating a depleted Dallas team 96-91 at home. But that didn’t stop the postgame Gregg Popovich rant — and we love nothing more than a Popovich rant.

Popovich said before the Laker game last Friday that this early in the season he doesn’t watch video of other teams — he only watches the Spurs, he wants to get his own house in order then he starts to worry about who else is out there. The Spurs are 11-3 and on a six-game win streak, the house seems pretty tight. But Popovich is right — they didn’t respect the game Monday night. That, more than just about anything, will set Popovich off.

AP Source: Detroit Pistons nearing downtown move

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DETROIT (AP) The Detroit Pistons have reached an agreement in principle with the city of Detroit and Olympia Entertainment for the team to move from the suburbs to downtown, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because there had been no formal announcement. Pistons owner Tom Gores is set to appear at a news conference Tuesday with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings.

Gores acknowledged last month that the team was close to a deal to leave The Palace of Auburn Hills and start playing downtown next season. The Pistons have been in talks about playing at the new arena that is being built for the Detroit Red Wings, who are owned by Mike and Marian Ilitch. The arena site is about 30 miles from Auburn Hills.

Olympia Entertainment, a division of Ilitch Holdings, handles business operations for the Red Wings, who are in their final season at Joe Louis Arena before moving to Little Caesars Arena.

The new arena is in the same part of downtown where the Tigers and Lions host their games, and not far from where Gores and Dan Gilbert have been hoping to put a new stadium for a Major League Soccer team.

The Pistons have played in Auburn Hills since 1988 and played at the Pontiac Silverdome for a decade prior to that. The team was downtown when it called Cobo Arena home from 1961-78.

The Palace was built with private funds by William Davidson, who owned the Pistons before his death in 2009. The team won championships in its first two seasons in Auburn Hills and again in 2004. Although the atmosphere slipped in recent years as the team went through a rough stretch on the court, Detroit returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009, and the Pistons appear headed in the right direction in Stan Van Gundy’s third season as their coach and team president.

Gores bought the Pistons from Karen Davidson in 2011. He said last month that if the team did leave the Palace, it was important to remember the success the franchise had in that area.

“I think we have to be really mindful of this community in Auburn Hills and their loyalty in showing up,” he said. “This has been a real community, and I want them to feel the same wherever we’re playing.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Dennis Rodman charged with hit-and-run for freeway crash

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has been charged with hit-and-run for a wrong-way-related crash on a Southern California freeway.

Orange County prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges against Rodman on Monday for a July 20 accident on Interstate 5 in Santa Ana.

Prosecutors say Rodman’s SUV was traveling north in a southbound carpool lane around 12:30 a.m., forcing a sedan to swerve into a dividing wall to avoid a collision.

Rodman’s attorney, Paul Meyer, says the incident occurred on a poorly signed exit ramp. He says Rodman corrected the driving error without the cars touching, stopped and spoke to people in the other car.

Rodman’s also charged with driving across a dividing section and without a valid license, and giving police false information.

He could face two years in county jail if convicted.