Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook gets last staredown against Joel Embiid

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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) Russell Westbrook gets the last staredown against Joel Embiid, Thunder beat 76ers.
It got a little personal between the All-Stars Westbrook and Embiid on Sunday — but Westbrook had the last staredown.

There’s history here, remember these teams played a triple-overtime thriller back on Dec. 15 — you remember, the game where Joel Embiid waved goodbye to Steven Adams after the latter fouled out, then Russell Westbrook told Embiid to go home — and they didn’t disappoint in this game either. It started in the first quarter when Joel Embiid drove the lane and threw it down hard putting Russell Westbrook in the poster.

Embiid even took to Instagram to gloat about that one a little (and notice the location).

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Tough loss #TheProcess

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It made Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. The game was close much of the way, and when the Thunder went on a 15-0 third-quarter run the Sixers showed resilience bouncing back to make it a game again. However, midway through the fourth quarter when Paul George returned to action, the Thunder went on a 21-9 run that sealed the win.

Westbrook finished with 37 points and 14 assists — and stared Embiid down as he dribbled out the clock.

That ends the season series between these teams, with the Thunder up 2-0, but I’d like to petition the league for a third game. At least.

2) Painful weekend injuries to DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Roberson will change playoff picture. Whenever asked on radio interviews or elsewhere how the bottom half of the West would shake out the second half of the season — where the six-seed and nine-seed are separated by two games — I have gone to a stock and rather boring answer: The team that suffers the most injuries will be the one on the outside looking in.

New Orleans suffered maybe the most significant injury of the season late in their biggest win of the season (vs. Houston) Friday night — DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles and is done for the season. The Pelicans had been leaning heavily on the All-Star starter Cousins — maybe too heavily. An Achilles injury is an overuse injury (built up over time but usually exacerbated) and as Tom Haberstroh of Bleacher Report noted Cousins played 52 minutes Monday against the Bulls, had been in four OT games in a nine-day span, and Cousins had averaged a very high 39.8 minutes per game in his previous 10 contests.

Without him, the Pelicans blew a 21-point second-quarter lead (not that crazy, but certainly not good) to the Clippers and lost on Sunday. The general concern after Cousins went down was the load now on Anthony Davis and how the team would do when he sat (without Cousins there to stagger with him). For the second part of that, the Pelicans were fine, they were +12 in his second-quarter rest — but Davis played the entire second half. Davis and Jrue Holiday played well, but without Cousins nor enough shooting on the roster, the Pelicans face a tough battle to stay in the playoffs. They had a three-game cushion over the nine-seed Clippers before the injury, but already that is down to two games with half a season to go. The Pelicans are in a fight to hold on to that playoff spot.

The other significant injury over the weekend is not going to impact who gets into the playoffs, but it will have an impact once the playoffs start — OKC’s Andre Roberson blew out his patellar tendon in his knee and is done for the season. Roberson is not one of the Thunder’s “big four” but is a key part of their top-five NBA defense: The reason is he was a long, switchable, quality defender who could share a big load on that end with George. When Roberson is on the court this season, the Thunder defense is 11.9 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits. He is long and switchable and alongside Paul George gave OKC defensive options in big games. Not anymore. They will miss him against (probably) Minnesota in the first round, and especially if it’s the Warriors in the second round. If the Thunder get bounced in the first round or crushed in the second, how much will that impact Paul George’s decision over the summer?

One other injury note: Mike Conley also is out for the season, the Grizzlies announced, and he will have surgery to fix his chronic Achilles issues. Unlike Cousins and Roberson, the Conley news doesn’t change the playoff picture — the Grizzlies are well out of it at this point. They may impact the playoff chase with a trade of Tyreke Evans — the hot rumor is to Boston — however, they are not moving Marc Gasol. Still, this injury sucks. Conley only played in 13 games this season, and the Grizzlies were 7-6 with him.

3) Tyronn Lue sits Isaiah Thomas for the fourth quarter, Cavaliers go on a 31-17 run to win going away. Isaiah Thomas isn’t the reason the Cavaliers defense is second worst in the NBA, but he isn’t helping things, either. Cleveland’s defense had been awful this season while Thomas was out the first months of the season, but upon his return it is a disturbingly poor 117.2 points allowed per 100 possessions when he is on the court.

On Sunday, coach Tyronn Lue went to stagger the minutes between Thomas and LeBron James more. In the first half, Thomas sat midway through the first quarter, then came back in to start the second quarter while LeBron rested. In the second half, it got more interesting — LeBron got about five minutes of rest at the end of the third quarter while Thomas stayed on the court. Then to start the fourth Thomas sat and it was the “LeBron and the bench” lineup that has worked so well this season and did again — the Cavaliers went on a 23-7 run near the end of the game to get the win.

It wasn’t just Thomas — Tristan Thompson didn’t play the fourth either. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith barely got in. Lue is looking for any rotation that can spark this team, and sometimes right now that’s going to mean a lot less Thomas on the court. He is looking better, but he is still not moving that well or looking all that much like his old self this season. It’s something to keep an eye on.

Also, LeBron James is really good — he finished with 25 points and 14 assists.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.