Getty Images

Embiid has Philadelphia hitting ‘like’ button on 76ers

3 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The headline reads like it was ripped straight from a fake news website: Philadelphia 76ers win for fourth time in five games! The headline reads like it was ripped straight from a fake news website: Philadelphia 76ers win for fourth time in five games!

The veracity of that claim has been verified – the Sixers, yes those topflight tankers that made a sham of competitive basketball – are actually winning games.

So what?

Time to dance !

Joel Embiid would not let a sprained left ankle stop him from busting a move on the court. He crashed the 76ers dance team’s postgame celebration and flailed his arms in the air like one of those wacky, waving inflatable air dancers stuck at car dealerships. Embiid was all smiles after the Sixers rallied from 10 down with 2:29 left to beat the New York Knicks on T.J. McConnell‘s jumper at the horn.

Embiid, a social media darling, has hit the “like” button on Philly’s future.

“Playoff time, baby,” Embiid said.

Hold up.

Don’t download those postseason tickets just yet. Embiid, the 7-foot center with an affinity for Shirley Temples, has added a splash of fun in his long-delayed rookie year and has at least made the Sixers compelling this season.

Embiid has generated the kind of buzz through his celebrity crushes (hello, Rhianna!) and celebrity fans (hi, Mike Trout!), and he’s become the Ellen of the 76ers with a victory dance in big moments.

Because of Embiid, the Sixers are finally finding those big moments.

Even with playing-time restrictions forced on him, Embiid has helped the Sixers win 11 times this season, one more win already than all of last season. Embiid has played in 26 of 36 games and leads the Sixers in scoring (19.4 ppg), blocks (60), rebounds (7.5), and hit 29 3-pointers. His 52 assists have helped the team PA announcer proclaim, “the feed from Embiid” at times in the Wells Fargo Center.

Already a fan favorite before he played a game, Embiid had adopted “The Process” as a nickname and is introduced as such as part of the pregame lineup festivities. Embiid waves his arms and exhorts fans to get louder as they chant “Trust the Process!” – the hackeyned nickname coined under the old Sam Hinkie era when tanking games (not winning them) was the theme of the organization.

“Rookie of the year would be great,” Embiid said. “I don’t think it’s going to help me to get to my crush. Hopefully, the All-Star (bid) gets to do that.”

The Sixers have orchestrated a social media push to get Embiid into the All-Star game. Embiid has long been a fan of Shirley Temples, the alcohol-free concoction of lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry, and the Sixers sold the drink as part of a promotional push to get him an All-Star spot.

Embiid was fourth among frontcourt players with 457,300 fan votes in the latest round of All-Star totals released Thursday. He needs to crack the top three to earn an Eastern Conference starting spot and was 16,028 votes shy of Cleveland’s Kevin Love for third.

As protective of the Sixers have been of Embiid’s health, the team still wants him in the All-Star game.

There’s still a harsh reality check facing the organization as it moves closer toward the Feb. 23 trade deadline. The Sixers still have one too many starting centers and the Embiid-Jahlil Okafor combination was a flop. Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft and last season’s leading scorer has been benched. He sat against the Knicks for his fourth DNP-CD in the last six games.

“I’m just trying to do my part to make sure it all works out,” Okafor said.

Nerlens Noel has been solid and the best bet to team at power forward with Embiid. Ersan Ilyasova had made everyone better and was a major coup for team president Bryan Colangelo. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall draft pick, has been strong in his comeback from a broken right foot and he could make his season debut within the month. The Sixers, though, have not put a timetable on his return. He competed in 5-on-0 drills this week for the first time and has recently started traveling with the Sixers.

Coach Brett Brown may have his best team in four seasons but the Sixers are well out of the playoff picture. Their 4-1 streak (on two buzzer-beaters ) came against sub.-500 teams Denver, Minnesota, Brooklyn and the Knicks. They play teams with .500 or above records in eight of the next nine games. Embiid, who sat out two seasons with a broken right foot, has a 28-minute per game restriction and doesn’t play a full set of back-to-backs. He’ll start Friday against Charlotte and sit Saturday at Washington.

Embiid-Simmons-Noel could be the trio that maybe next season leads the Sixers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“When you really set the bar as high as we have, there is a lot left to be learned. And done,” Brown said. “It’s a heck of a lot clearer now than it ever was.”

Players see similarities between Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra

Brad Stevens Erik Spoelstra
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jae Crowder will tell anybody who asks that the Miami Heat are extremely well-prepared for whatever comes their way in the Eastern Conference finals.

He can say the same about the Boston Celtics, too.

Crowder and fellow Heat teammate Kelly Olynyk are both in the East title series for the second time. Their first time was in 2017 — when they were Boston teammates under coach Brad Stevens. And it isn’t hard for Crowder to see the similarities between Stevens and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Oh, the No. 1 thing that sticks out to me is the attention to detail,” Crowder said. “Both coaches have preached that and pushed that with their teams, respectively. You need that at this level. You need that at this time of the year, because both teams really know exactly what they’re trying to get to. It’s just about the level of detail that you’re doing it and how much you’re imposing your will.”

The Celtics lost that 2017 series to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and neither Olynyk nor Crowder ever played for Boston again when that postseason run ended. Crowder was traded in the summer after those 2017 East finals, part of the deal that brought Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston. Olynyk left Boston in the same summer, signing a three-year contract with Miami with a player option for next season tacked on as well.

Stevens remains fond of both players, and even now — with the Celtics trying to beat the Heat — he says he’s happy for Olynyk and Crowder.

“I think they’re both great competitors, great people,” Stevens said. “They impact winning. It’s not a surprise they’re doing it again.”

Spoelstra has a bit of familiarity with a key member of the Celtics, albeit on a different level. The Heat made a big push to sign Gordon Hayward in 2017, even getting him to visit Miami on what became a bit of a whirlwind free-agent tour that summer. Hayward ended up signing with Boston; that was largely why Miami got Olynyk that summer, because the Celtics had to rescind the qualifying offer made to him in order to help clear the space needed to sign Hayward.

“We loved the meeting with Gordon,” Spoelstra said in 2017. “There’s a reason why we recruited him.”

All the moves have worked out for everyone involved. Most of the Celtics who were on that 2017 team aren’t there now, so it’s not like Olynyk and Crowder are facing off with their old team — just their former franchise.

“I mean, there’s definitely similarities … they’re two of the best coaches in the league, and to be successful in this league you’ve got to do some of the same stuff,” Olynyk said. “But they do have their differences as well and that’s what makes them unique and that’s what makes our two teams different.”

Miami leads this year’s East finals 2-1 going into Game 4 on Wednesday night.

“I think the similarity is definitely just the attention to detail that they both coach with, and they push it to their groups tremendously,” Crowder said. “I think that’s a hell of a compliment to both coaches.”

Report: G-League considering tournament including select team of top draft prospects

Todd Lussier/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

There is not going to be a G-League Showcase in Las Vegas right before Christmas. At least not in the traditional sense.

However, the G-League reportedly is considering a tournament-style showcase event while the NBA will be between seasons. This tournament would include the Ignite select team of highly-touted draft prospects getting paid, skipping college, and spending a season working on their game. All that according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The key line here: Decisions are fluid.

The 2020 NBA Draft is Nov. 18. After that, nothing is set in stone; there is no official start date for free agency and no date for the start of next season (although the buzz around the league continues to say February, maybe even March). This G-League tournament would be a way to show off players to general managers/scouts/executives, which means it needs to occur when those people can attend. Until more of the schedule is set, nobody is sure when that will be.

The Ignite team, which will train in Northern California (Walnut Park), is stacked with a number of potential high picks — including Daishen Nix, Jonathan Kuminga, and Jalen Green — and they will be coached by former NBA player/coach Brian Shaw. No doubt the G-League would like to give them and others a chance to shine, but the coronavirus will make finding the right time a challenge. Then the league has to create a bubble again. It’s not cheap or easy.

That said, it could happen. Keep an eye out.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

Chicago coach
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

Michael Jordan NASCAR
Brian Lawdermilk - Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR
Leave a comment

Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.