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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.

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WHAT A NIGHT !!!!! #TheProcess

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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.

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.