Associated Press

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

5 Comments

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.

Dwight Howard will join Lakers for restart, donate check to social justice cause

Lakers Dwight Howard
Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction… I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families? This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our unity starts. At home! With Family!!”

Those are the words of Dwight Howard, who was among the players questioning the NBA’s restart in Orlando.  He was grieving the loss of Melissa Rios, the mother of his 6-year-old son, David, and was looking at his family as the biggest priority in his life. As it should be. Howard also is committed to the Black Lives Matter movement and, as he stated, saw the NBA’s return as a distraction.

In the end, he has decided to play in the NBA restart and donate his checks the rest of this season to charity, something Howard announced on CNN (hat tip Dave McMenamin).

That is about a $700,000 donation by Howard to Breathe Again.

Howard played a central role as a big man off the bench on a Lakers’ team that is the odds-on favorite to win it all. A ring would be the cherry on top of his Hall of Fame career.

Howard wants to be a part of that, but it means sacrificing time with family. He said it was not an easy decision, and he is putting his money where his mouth is donating his earnings to charity.

The thoughtfulness behind those decisions shows the kind of maturity Howard has grown into, even if fans never see it.

Jaylen Brown heads to restart with Boston, plans to use voice for social justice

Jaylen Brown Boston
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown has been one of the most active NBA players in the Black Lives Matters movement — even driving from Boston to Atlanta to lead a protest.

That’s not changing because he’s going to Orlando for the NBA restart.

Brown admitted he considered not playing in Orlando due to the pandemic, but the opportunity the NBA’s platform provided to speak on social issues was too great to pass up, Brown said in a conference call with reporters Monday, via the Associated Press.

“Once I thought about the opportunity that the organization and the NBA presented to play for something bigger than myself, I was signed up,” he said. “I plan on using my voice while I’m down there. I plan on spreading light on things that are getting dimmed and hopefully the NBA and our organization can understand.”

Brown is not alone in thinking that. Portland’s CJ McCollum is on the executive committee of the National Basketball Players Association as well and said a lot of players see the same opportunity.

“But now [the talk is] more around what impact we can make to support what is going on in the real world, to continue to support Black Lives Matter and the things we’re facing as a society,” McCollum told NBC Sports. “Those are the calls we’re having now. How can we impact? How can we spread awareness on certain things in the world that are going on?…

“The biggest thing is to take advantage of the platform [in Orlando], to coincide with the NBA and figure out productive ways we can continue to spread information, to continue to educate, to continue to put light on things that have often been behind closed doors and never been brought out to the public eye, so I think those are the conversations we’ll continue to have.”

One way players can make a statement is by replacing the name on the back of jerseys with a message pre-approved by the league. Brown, like 76ers forward Mike Scott, is not a fan of how the NBA handled it.

“I think that list is an example of a form of limitations,” Brown said. “I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more…

“The bottom line is there are improvements that need to be made,” Brown said. “The NBA has a great voice, a lot of resources and a lot of influence. We’re appreciative that they’re helping and aiding in a lot of those things that we care about. That’s really important.”

Brown understands the NBA’s voice, and he heads to Orlando planning to use his.

76ers’ Mike Scott on social-justice messages on NBA jerseys: ‘That was terrible. It was a bad list’

Leave a comment

The NBA approved a list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Say Their Names
  • Vote
  • I Can’t Breathe
  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Enough
  • Power to the People
  • Justice Now
  • Say Her Name
  • Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)
  • Liberation
  • See Us
  • Hear Us
  • Respect Us
  • Love Us
  • Listen
  • Listen to Us
  • Stand Up
  • Ally
  • Anti-Racist
  • I Am A Man
  • Speak Up
  • How Many More
  • Group Economics
  • Education Reform
  • Mentor

76ers forward Mike Scott, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

They gave us some names and phrases to put on the back of jerseys,” Scott said. “That was terrible. It was a bad list, bad choice. They didn’t give players a chance to voice their opinion on it. They just gave us a list to pick from. That was bad. That’s terrible. Just voice your opinion, how you feel.

“I don’t know how you can use your platform. I don’t know. Vote. Of course, vote. See what laws we can change. But I’m all about just doing, instead of just saying or posting or putting something on the back of your jersey. I don’t think that’s going to stop anything. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know.

Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, via Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“I would like to see — because I think it can still happen — more options available to put on the back of our jerseys,” Brown said Monday in a video conference with reporters. “We understand anything vulgar our league doesn’t necessarily represent, but for histories and causes such as now, I think that that list is an example of a form of limitation. I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more.

” … I was very disappointed in the list that was agreed to. I think things were tried and attempts were made to add to that list, but the NBA agreed that that list was satisfactory. Hopefully we can get some more names on that list.”

“Maybe ‘Break the Cycle,’ ‘Results’ — that’s what everybody is really playing for — ‘Inequality by Design,’ ” Brown said, “things like that I think may have a deeper impact than some of the things that were given to us. I think it was a little bit limiting.”

As far as Scott’s complaint about players not having a voice in the list, the plan was presented as developed in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. Perhaps, this is another example of union leadership not being on the same page as its members. But to be fair, it’s difficult to satisfy everyone. Scott and Brown don’t necessarily speak for players en masse.

Of course the NBA – a multi-billion-dollar company – was going to allow only sanitized phrases. The middle has shifted, but not enough for mainstream support for a sharp criticism like Brown’s “Inequality by Design.” (He’s right, though.) The NBA doesn’t want too much controversy.

However, simply by operating, the league gives players platforms and resources .

Nobody should have expected these jersey messages to be the primary means of change. They’re fine and can help draw attention.

But players can do more outside the league’s formal structure, including speaking up in interviews – like Scott and Brown did today.

Pelicans sign Sindarius Thornwell as substitute player. For whom?

Sindarius Thornwell vs. Pelicans
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Pelicans tested positive for coronavirus. At least.

Is one of them not playing in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World?

Despite having a full roster, New Orleans is signing Sindarius Thornwell.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Sindarius Thornwell as a substitute player for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Thornwell will wear #12 for the Pelicans.

Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune:

At this stage, only players who can’t play due to coronavirus or choose to it out can be replaced. That’s not Darius Miller, who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury.

With Zion Williamson looking fit, the Pelicans could be dangerous. They’re in a tight race to force play-in games. But they don’t have much margin for error in the playoff race.

So, keep an eye on whom Thornwell is replacing.