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Report: NBA executives expect 76ers to pursue LeBron James in free agency

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In 2010, LeBron James left the Cavaliers’ weak supporting cast to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat.

In 2014, LeBron left declining Wade and Bosh to play with younger stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland.

Could LeBron make another proactive move next summer – specifically to join Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with the 76ers?

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

executives around the league believe Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo will attempt to sign James.

Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just connecting dots? The possibility of the former makes this intriguing.

Philadelphia can relatively easily carve out max cap space next summer. Any team with so much room would want LeBron, though determination to chase him will vary. Some teams will bow out, not wanting to waste their time. Others – maybe including the 76ers? – will make harder pushes.

LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and manager, Maverick Carter, have both publicly emphasized that winning should be LeBron’s priority. There’s a case Philadelphia with LeBron would win more than Cleveland with LeBron.

The 76ers are overloaded with assets – Embiid, Simmons, Markelle Fultz (whatever you make of him at this point), Robert Covington, Dario Saric, several other young and an extra future first-round pick. Philadelphia also signed J.J. Redick in a bid to accelerate its timeline, and the team is 12-8. If LeBron comes, it’d be easy to flip young players and picks for more players capable of winning now.

Embiid and Simmons already appear to be on that level, and they’re just 23 and 21, respectively. The 76ers’ championship window could be open from the moment LeBron signs until he retires. That should intrigue him.

But it’s not so simple. LeBron also cares about his legacy, and leaving the Cavs again would compromise it. He doesn’t want to be known as a carpetbagger. On the other hand, another title would bolster his résumé, and Philadelphia offers the possibility of LeBron continuing his reign over the Eastern Conference.

I don’t know what LeBron will do next summer. He probably doesn’t know what he’ll do next summer. But between now and then, multiple teams will have their moment where speculation centers on them signing LeBron. This is the 76ers’.

It’s a long way from actually signing the superstar forward, but after years of tanking, Philadelphia ought to feel good it has established enough credibility where a LeBron pursuit is at least taken seriously.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.