Three Things to Know: Markelle Fultz is back and that’s good for him, Sixers

Associated Press
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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) Markelle Fultz is back on NBA hardwood, and that’s good for him, Sixers. Watching the Philadelphia 76ers this season — with budding superstars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — and thinking about the big picture, it was clear they needed another shot creator on the roster. Someone who could attack, score, pass, and get buckets for themselves and set up others.

Except they had that guy already: Markelle Fultz. The No. 1 pick out of Washington. He had missed 68 games this season due to a shoulder injury that evolved into a crisis of confidence with his shot, but coming out of college he was precisely what they needed.

Fultz was back Monday night against Denver and was welcomed by the Philly faithful with a standing ovation and the fans chanting his name (although he thought it was for Nick Foles at first). In his return he looked like a talented rookie — he made a few poor decisions, some good ones, was trying to find his rhythm and shot, but ended up with a nice 10 point, eight assist re-debut. It’s a solid first step.

The Sixers are headed to the playoffs. How much coach Brett Brown can lean on Fultz by then — when he would have great value as a shot creator with the second unit — remains to be seen, but in the big picture for Philly, this is a good step.

2) RIP Zeke Upshaw. Last Saturday night, Zeke Upshaw, a 26-year-old player for the G-League’s Grand Rapids Drive (the Pistons’ affiliate) collapsed on the court late in the game. He was rushed to the hospital with what was later reported to be a cardiac arrest.

Monday, the Upshaw family announced he had passed away.

This is tragic news. It drew reactions from around the NBA.

RIP Upshaw. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and teammates.

3) Minnesota loses a game to tanking Memphis, these are the ones that sting. Minnesota will probably still make the playoffs, ending a drought that stretches back to 2004. Fivethirtyeight.com gives them an 87 percent chance of making the postseason, and they currently sit as the eighth seed in the West.

But Monday night’s loss to tanking Memphis is a punch to the gut. It’s one thing to lose to a good Philadelphia team as Minnesota did the game before, but it’s losing to teams in the tanking race that is a punch to the gut. Yet that’s exactly what Minnesota did Monday night, falling to Memphis 101-93 at home. This is the same Memphis team that had won just one of its last 24 games and was beaten by 61 points last week.

Teague had a good, aggressive game (23 points), but his teammates were largely passive and willing to settle for fade-away jumpers and tough shots rather than get to the rim. However, the more significant problem was on the defensive end where Marc Gasol punished the Timberwolves in the paint and defenders did a poor job closing out on shooters. Wayne Selden scored 23 to lead the Grizzlies.

Minnesota has lost two in a row and should send the Sixers a six-pack of beer as a thank you for beating Denver Monday. The Timberwolves have lost two in a row and are just 1.5 games up on the Nuggets and 2 games ahead of the Clippers for the final playoff spot — and Minnesota is only one up in the loss column on both teams. Jimmy Butler is not walking through that door (for a couple of weeks) so Minnesota needs to find some wins without him. And they need to start taking every opponent seriously.

Minnesota hosts the Hawks Wednesday then travel to Dallas Friday — they need those wins. The playoff spot is theirs to lose, but keep getting beat by tanking teams and they will do just that. If you’re circling a game on the calendar, it’s a week from Thursday vs. Denver.