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Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid injury changes playoff vibe in Eastern Conference

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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) Joel Embiid injury changes playoff vibe in Eastern Conference. Wednesday morning, you could chart a very plausible path for the Sixers to reach the Conference Finals (they climb the half game past the Cavaliers for the three seed, beat the six seed in the first round, then face the banged-up Celtics or whoever beat them in the first round, and then it’s the conference finals).

Forty-eight hours later, the Sixers season has been tossed upside down.

Joel Embiid has a fractured orbital bone (the eye socket) that requires surgery to repair, and he has a concussion. He’s out for 2-4 weeks. That means the rest of the regular season and likely at least the start of the playoffs, maybe the entire first round.

Embiid is handling this in the most Embiid way possible.

What does that mean on the court? The Sixers are in trouble. When Embiid has been out of the game this season (either missing the game or just on the bench), the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions worse. Embiid’s presence impacts both sides of the ball — when he’s out the defense gets six points per 100 possessions worse, while the offense is 9.6 per 100 worse. Or, look at it this way: the Sixers outscore opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Embiid but when he sits the Sixers get outscored by 3.6 per 100. With Embiid on the court the Sixers look elite, without him they look like a team that misses the playoffs entirely. He makes that big a difference. If Wednesday is any indication, look for some combination of Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes, and Dario Saric to play the five.

How hard will Philly push to get him back? Yes, their playoff seeding and how long they last in the postseason largely hinge on Embiid playing, but for a young team with long-term aspirations this playoff run is not the goal. It’s not worth long-term risk to try to win a playoff series this season. The vision has to be bigger than that, both for Embiid and the franchise.

So where do the Sixers land now?

Philly is currently the four seed in the East, percentage points ahead of the Pacers for the five slot, with both of them just half a game back of the three-seed Cavaliers. Indiana has a brutal schedule the rest of the way, the Sixers have the softest remaining schedule in the league (just two of their eight remaining games are against playoff teams), but the Pacers could well still pass them for the four seed. Catching the Cavaliers is almost out of the question now, and with a little gap back to the Wizards at six, the Sixers likely finish with the four or five seed and take on the Pacers in the first round. With Embiid Philadelphia is the favorite in that series, without him… not so much.

2) Kevin Durant ejected again, Golden State loses again, and with that the Rockets lock up the No. 1 seed. After missing six games with cracked ribs, Kevin Durant returned to the Warriors lineup Thursday night against the Bucks and with that (and the return of Draymond Green) the Warriors were supposed to get back to normal.

They did — the new normal where Durant gets ejected. That’s the fifth time this season. Just before the half Durant drove the lane and thought Giannis Antetokounmpo came over the top and fouled him, but there was no call. Durant got up, ignored the play that was going on, walked straight over to referee Tre Maddox and dropped a series of F-bombs on him (you can hear it in the broadcast), and that got KD tossed.

First, Durant earned the ejection. Players complain that officials have a quick trigger, but Durant showed Maddox zero respect and got in his face yelling obscenities — what did KD think was going to happen? Players are frustrated with officials this season, they want the ability to vent a little on calls and have a conversation about how things are officiated, and that’s completely fair — but it has to be done with respect. On both sides. If you ignore the play and go up to a referee dropping F-bombs you’re going to get run. That’s on Durant, not Maddox.

Without Durant, there was no second-half comeback for Golden State, and the Bucks picked up a much-needed win for them as they fight for seeding with Miami at the bottom of the East (the seven seed and Boston in the first round, minus Kyrie Irving and all the other Celtics’ injuries, is a coveted spot). Antetokounmpo had 32 points to lead Milwaukee.

That’s three-straight losses for Golden State, which is enough to give Houston the No. 1 seed officially. The Warriors are locked into the No. 2 slot. Expect both teams to rest their stars a lot the last couple weeks of the season.

3) Spurs knock off Thunder with equal parts defense, LaMarcus Aldridge, move into four seed. On paper, the Thunder look like they should be a serious threat in the Western Conference playoffs, a team that can put a real scare into even a healthy Golden State or Houston team. But then you watch them play and they are something less than that.

San Antonio used the same formula it has used all season — great defense and enough LaMarcus Aldridge to get the job done — to beat Oklahoma City 103-99. OKC was all Westbrook down the stretch but this was not his night — 2-of-8 shooting in the fourth with a couple air-balled threes and a couple of turnovers. While the Thunder clamped down on Aldridge in the second half (just four of his 25 points came after the half), it opened up things for other players who stepped in with buckets.

San Antonio and Oklahoma City are tied for the four/five seeds in the West with both at 44-32, however, the Spurs have the tiebreaker right now (the teams are 2-2 head-to-head this season, so it goes to conference record and the Spurs currently have a one-game lead).

I want to believe in Westbrook, Paul George, and the Thunder, but I watch their bench get torched in this game and I wonder (bench play matters less in the postseason but it still matters some). I watch teams target Carmelo Anthony on defense, something that will only get worse in the playoffs, and I see vulnerabilities. The Thunder can get out of the first round, but it will not be easy, not in this deep West. And beyond that, it’s just hard to envision after watching a game like this.

Blazers win 2018 NBA Las Vegas Summer League Championship vs. Lakers

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The Portland Trail Blazers are your 2018 NBA Las Vegas Summer League Champions. I want Multnomah County just to drink that in for a minute.

Tuesday night’s Final was not a close one, with the Trail Blazers in control of the game for most of the time. Portland jumped out to an early 31-19 lead, and were led by KJ McDaniels, who eventually took home the championship game’s MVP honors.

On the other side of the floor, it was Summer League MVP Josh Hart who had been ejected in the fourth quarter. Portland’s largest lead was 24 points, and it was surely a frustrating night for the young Lakers Squad.

Via Twitter:

McDaniels led the way for Portland, finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds, and one assist on 57 percent shooting from the field. The Blazers had six players in double figures, and helped shut down LA from 3-point range, forcing them to shoot just 3-of-21 from deep.

Hart scored 12 points for the Lakers, and Los Angeles had just three players in double figures. As a team, LA shot 39 percent from the field during the 18-point loss.

This Summer League playoff win doesn’t quite make up for the 2000 Western Conference Finals between these two rivals, But Blazers fans have to be happy that their team at least got a sniff of a deep playoff run.

No doubt they will be partying on SE Division tonight.

Lakers’ Josh Hart get ejected during Summer League Final (VIDEO)

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Josh Hart was the Las Vegas Summer League MVP for the Los Angeles Lakers. He scored a whopping 37 points during Monday night’s 2OT win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but apparently it was just too much of him to finish Tuesday’s Final against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Hart didn’t agree with an official’s decision — presumably on a no-call — late in the fourth quarter, and he had some choice words for the referee as the floor changed possession. The Lakers guard already had one technical foul from earlier in the game, so his second earned him an ejection. It was his second of Summer League.

That’s not necessarily a good look for Hart, although it’s not as though Summer League has a real impact on a player’s career in the long run.

Should Hart have been upset that he did not get a foul? Probably not, seeing as how he led with his elbow. No doubt Lakers brass will be more concerned by the fact that he was ejected from not one but two Summer League games during his MVP run.

Hart will have to get his emotions under control as we head into the regular season for Los Angeles.

The Trail Blazers beat the Lakers in the Final, 91-73, with KJ McDaniels taking home the championship game MVP honors.

Watch Collin Sexton try to intimidate Josh Hart with this weird sumo flex (VIDEO)

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Collin Sexton is presumably the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron James decided to decamp his home state for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Along with Kevin Love, Sexton will be a player to watch over the coming season as the Cavaliers try to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Sexton has already drawn some attention in Las Vegas Summer League for his performance, and not just as a point guard.

It appears that Sexton is a student of the theatrical arts as well.

Via Twitter:

It’s not really clear whether Sexton was able to intimidate Hart with his strange sumo flex. Although Hart didn’t score on that possession, he did score 37 points in a 2OT game which LA won. Hart was also named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

We will see whether Sexton decides to deploy this defensive strategy over the course of the regular season. I personally hope he does it every possession.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr receives contract extension

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has received a contract extension following the franchise’s repeat championship and third title in four years during his tenure.

Kerr and general manager Bob Myers, who are close friends and colleagues, said when the season ended that something would get done quickly once they began formal discussions. Kerr had one year remaining on his original $25 million, five-year contract. Details of the extension were not announced Tuesday.

“We’re excited to have Steve under contract and poised to lead our team for the next several years,” Myers said in a statement released by the team. “Under his guidance, we’ve been fortunate enough to win three NBA titles in four years and his ability to thrive in all facets of his job is certainly a primary reason for our success. He’s a terrific coach, but more importantly an incredible human being.”

The 52-year-old Kerr has said he hopes to coach at least another decade and perhaps 15 years. His Warriors swept LeBron James and Cleveland in the fourth straight NBA Finals matchups between the rivals.

Kerr stayed healthy and on the bench while continuing to deal with symptoms such as headaches and dizzy spells stemming from a pair of back surgeries following the 2015 title.

The Warriors marked themselves as a dynasty with their latest crown. They joined Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan and the Lakers’ trio of title runs fueled by George Mikan in the 1950s, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the `80s, and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant nearly 20 years ago as the only franchises in NBA history to capture three championships in four years.

Golden State captured the franchise’s first title in 40 years during 2014-15, with Kerr as a rookie head coach. Now, the Warriors are gearing up for one more season in Oracle Arena before opening their state-of-the-art Chase Center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood in August 2019.

James offered a shoutout to Kerr during the finals.

“I could sit here and say today – `Listen, Golden State is a great team …’ – I didn’t even mention their head coach,” James said. “Their head coach is the one who kind of puts it all together, makes it all flow. To be able to put egos and the right position and spot on the floor where everybody feels good about the outcome and things of that nature – when it comes to team sports, that’s something that you would hope that you could be a part of.”

Kerr owns a 265-63 record (.808), guiding the Warriors to a record 73-win season in 2015-16 before a runner-up finish to the Cavaliers. His Warriors then went a record 16-1 during the 2017 postseason on the way to another title.

He was tested more as a coach this season, aside from his 43-game absence to begin the 2015-16 season when then-top assistant and current Lakers coach Luke Walton led the Warriors to a record 24-0 start and 39-4 mark before Kerr’s return to the bench.

Late in the regular season this year, Golden State lost seven of 10 during one noteworthy funk for a team that when healthy starts four All-Stars and can score in flurries with a pass-happy offense that racks up assists.

For weeks ahead of the 2018 playoffs, the Warriors hardly looked like that super team that dominated through the previous postseason. They lost their final regular-season game at Utah by 40 points.

Yet Kerr and his players insisted all along they would find another level when there was something bigger to play for.

Kerr was forced to use a mindboggling 27 different starting lineups to get through the regular season and wind up a No. 2 seed behind Houston, with the Western Conference finals marking the first time the Warriors had to open a series on the road since 2014.

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