Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: A lot of Westbrook may not be enough

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while watching the True Detective season 2 trailer over and over

1) Russell Westbrook tries to will Thunder into playoffs with 54 points, but it’s not enough. Oklahoma City may miss the playoffs, but it’s not for a lack of effort from Russell Westbrook. Sunday he dropped 54 points — on 43 shots, which is efficient compared to his recent big games — trying to will the Thunder past the Pacers. He couldn’t. Indiana won 116-104 behind 30 points from C.J. Miles. More than that, Westbrook may have cost his team a shot at the postseason when he got a techical in the fourth quarter. It was a quick whistle from Ed Malloy and should be rescinded by the league, but if it’s not Westbrook has 16 techs and would be out Monday night against Portland. The Thunder and Pelicans remain tied for the final playoff spot, but the Pelicans have the tie breaker. A New Orleans win Monday, and an OKC loss, and the Thunder can start making tee times for next weekend.

With the win, the Pacers moved into a tie with Brooklyn for the last playoff spot in the East.

2) James Harden kept the Thunder in playoff picture at all. The Thunder should send a nice gift basket to their old teammate Harden, the only reason they are still hin the playoff picture is Harden helped lead a come-from-behind win over New Orleans Sunday. Harden had 30 points, and the Thunder should thank Corey Brewer too, he had 13 in the fourth quarter for Houston.

As for the Rockets… the West is still a mess. Houston, Memphis and the LA Clippers are all 54-26, just half a game back of San Antonio at 55-26. While the Trail Blazers will finish with the four seed (they won the Northwest Division) the other four teams could finish anywhere from 2-6 still. With a couple games left. The West is a mess.

3) Cleveland helps Celtics take big step toward playoffs. If you can name the Cavaliers’ player, they probably rested on Sunday. Which is the smart move for Cleveland, it has wrapped up the two seed and wants guys fresh for the playoffs (even if the first round will be a virtual bye). No LeBron James, Kyrie Iriving, Kevin Love or much of anyone else. That was a huge break for the Celtics, who picked up an easy win 117-78 and with that moved into the seven seed, one game clear of Brooklyn and Indiana (tied for that eight slot). If the playoffs started today, Boston would face Cleveland. And get crushed.

4) Milwaukee’s you East six seed, hurt Brooklyn in the process. Brooklyn is the eight seed, tied with Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East, because the Nets lost to the Bucks. What that means for Milwaukee is they are locked in as the six seed in the East — which before the season seemed impossible. This Bucks team is taking a step forward (although I don’t love the trade for Michael Carter-Williams).

5) Kenneth Faried put on a show, dropped 30 on the Kings. The Manimal showed up to play on Sunday and had 19 points in the first quarter. He went on to score 30 in a 122-111 Denver win over George Karl’s Sacramento squad. Faried didn’t try to stretch his game; he just got to the rim. Check out this shot chart and video.

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Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston

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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) Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston. This is how special a player Joel Embiid is: After dropping 22 and 10 on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Tuesday night in a Sixers win, Shaq and Charles Barkley (on TNT’s Inside the NBA) ripped Embiid for not being dominant enough.

This is how special a player Joel Embiid was Thursday night: Boston’s Enes Kanter had probably his best game as a Celtics’ big man, and he couldn’t even slow Embiid, who had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Embiid was the best player on the floor and was having fun in a 115-109 Philadelphia win on the road.

Shaq and Barkley are right to a degree, and Embiid even admitted as much after the game — he can be more dominant than he has shown this season. “Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate,” Embiid said, via Noah Levine at NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Of course, Shaq won his rings when he didn’t have to be that dominant every night because he had someone else who could step up and take over (Kobe, Dwyane Wade). Nobody is sure who that would be on the Sixers. Tobias Harris stepped up with 23 points in this game, but Ben Simmons just has not been the guy the Sixers need. He finished the night with 7 points on 2-of-6 shooting. Josh Richardson seems to have more pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid than Simmons. Still, Simmons makes a few plays every game that shows what he can be.

Philly also won this game because their defense was impressive in the second half. Their length bothered Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who shot a combined 8-of-27.

When the Sixers defend like they did in the second half, and when Embiid is dominant like he was, Philadelphia looks like the second-best team in the East and a threat to Milwaukee. We just haven’t seen it consistently this season.

Boston has now lost back-to-back games to good East teams — Indiana and Philadelphia — and while it’s just December and far too early to panic, it also shows why Boston may want to be active around the trade deadline if they can find a good deal (but stop with the Kevin Love talk, that’s not happening).

2) Former NBA Commissioner David Stern suffers brain hemorrhage, has to undergo emergency surgery. David Stern collapsed at a Manhattan restaurant on Thursday and was raced to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. That means bleeding in or around the brain, and that is as bad and life-threatening as it sounds.

The NBA released this statement.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The reaction around the NBA was immediate.

Stern, 77, took over as NBA commissioner back when Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern came along at the right time — first the Magic/Bird era and rivalry, then Michael Jordan — but he understood what an opportunity this was for the league and changed how it marketed itself, it became a league of stars. That remains to this day. He grew the NBA into one of the most dominant sports leagues on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family.

3) Luka Doncic muy impresionante in Mexico City. There were “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants in the Arena Ciudad de Mexico Thursday night — Mexico City loves Luka Doncic.

Doesn’t everyone right now?

Doncic did everything right Thursday, from addressing the crowd pregame in fluent Spanish (he played for Real Madrid in Spain before coming to the NBA) to dropping a 41-point triple-double on the Pistons to get the Mavericks another win, 122-111. Doncic finished the night with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Seth Curry added 30 as the Pistons found out just how good that Dallas offense is. Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and got Andre Drummond’s attention.

Dallas is 17-7 on the season and looks like a team that could have home court for the first round of the playoffs.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern undergoes emergency surgery following brain hemorrhage

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Let’s hope this is not as serious as it sounds.

David Stern, the man at the helm of the NBA through its explosion of popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, collapsed in a New York restaurant Thursday and had to be rushed to a local hospital, where brain surgery was required.

Here is the NBA’s statement on the matter.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The call to NYFD came in around 2 p.m., and he was taken from a restaurant straight to the hospital, according to reports.

Stern, 77, was a strong-willed leader when the NBA needed a direction. When he took over NBA Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern oversaw the growth in the league’s popularity through the Magic/Bird era of the 1980s and into the Michael Jordan era of the 1990s. He grew the game and the league not only within domestic borders but internationally, branding the NBA as the best basketball played on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family, hoping for a speedy recovery.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis pleads no contest to assault outside L.A. nightclub

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former NBA player Ronald Glen Davis avoided jail time after pleading no contest to a charge that he attacked a man outside a Los Angeles-area nightclub last year, prosecutors said Thursday.

Davis, 33, was accused of throwing the victim into a wall during an altercation in West Hollywood on April 8, 2018.

He entered his plea Wednesday to one felony count of battery with serious bodily injury, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

As part of a plea agreement, Davis is required to complete 320 hours of community labor over the next year. If he meets that condition and breaks no other laws, the battery count will be reduced to a misdemeanor, prosecutors said.

Davis also paid $104,479 in restitution.

Known by the nickname “Big Baby,” Davis played for the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers. Since retiring from the NBA he played in the Big3, where his team the Power won the 2018 title.

Another report Knicks president Steve Mills is on hot seat

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We’ve discussed these reports before, and they shouldn’t be a surprise:

Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are on the hot seat and could be removed after the season. This time the report comes from the well-connected Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

Several members of the organization said this week that they fully expect Mills will be replaced as team president at the end of the season — if not sooner — unless the club somehow turns things around…

A source said last week that Mills and Perry are under significant pressure following the firing of head coach David Fizdale. If Mills is let go the Knicks will likely turn their attention to Toronto exec Masai Ujiri. Sam Presti also has fans within the organization. If Mills was let go in season, the expectation is that Perry would take over for the remainder of the year.

On head coaching front, we can add that Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson have support within the organization.

Let’s leave the head coaching rumors alone for now, because whoever is the guy with the hammer in the front office next summer is the guy who should make that call.

Two things should concern Knicks fans here.

First, the report states Mills likely is replaced “unless the club somehow turns things around.” There is a long and storied list of horrific trades made by POBOs/GMs desperate to save their jobs. The kind of moves that ties the hands of whoever comes in next for years. If owner James Dolan is serious about bringing in someone with a track record of success — and giving them complete and total authority — then Dolan can’t let Mills start making desperation trades at the deadline to try and save his job. If interim coach Mike Miller can start winning with this roster as is, that’s different (and highly unlikely), but don’t let Mills mess up the future to marginally improve the present.

Second is this question: Will Mills be re-assigned to a new position with the Knicks — so Dolan keeps his man in the building — or is he shown the door? That will be the tell about the future of the Knicks. Phil Jackson, the executive with the most power in the past couple of decades for the Knicks, was not allowed to remove Mills (among other times he was handcuffed in making changes). Not having that power is why at least one big-name candidate told NBC Sports he stepped back during the last team president hiring process. There is zero chance Ujiri or Presti or any other candidate with options takes the job if Mills just gets shuffled around again.

It’s the Knicks and James Dolan, predict what will happen at your own risk.