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.

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.