76ers hold off LeBron James, Cavaliers 132-130 to move into third seed in East

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ben Simmons topped LeBron James in a triple-double battle to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to their 13th straight win in their biggest game in six years, 132-130 over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.

With a buzz in the city over the Sixers that hasn’t been felt since the pre-Process days, they romped toward a 30-point lead over the Cavs in the first half and scored 78 points at the break.

Simmons had 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. James had 44 points (17-of-29 shooting), 11 assists and 11 rebounds, bringing the Cavaliers to the brink of an epic comeback.

The Sixers (49-30) moved into third place in the Eastern Conference over the Cavaliers (49-31). The third seed is the most coveted playoff spot in the East right now because with all the injuries to Boston (which is locked in as the two seed) the three seed should have a relatively clean path to the Conference Finals.

Perhaps the Cavs were fatigued from rallying from 17-points down to win Thursday against Washington. Whatever the reason, they were in a funk from the start – James even missed a dunk.

James suddenly remembered in the second half he needed to showcase his stuff for his potential summer suitor. He had a chance to tie the game when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.9 seconds left. He made the first, missed the second and his intentional miss on the third failed to go in on a Cavs tip at the horn.

He scored 21 points in the third and hit successive 3-pointers in the fourth that helped pull Cleveland to 111-109. James had a monster slam that kept it a three-point game only for JJ Redick to come down and bury a 3.

James started yapping at the refs, the crowd howled as he complained, and the arena felt like a Game 7.

Then it got earsplitting.

Simmons kicked out to Redick for a 3 from the corner that brought Allen Iverson out of his seat and pumping his fist in celebration.

Jeff Green‘s 3 with 12 seconds left made it 128-127 and James made two free throws with 4.6 to go to cut it to 130-129.

The Sixers, who already clinched their first playoff berth since 2012, won again for the fifth straight game without All-Star center Joel Embiid. Embiid was at the game for the first time since he suffered a concussion and needed surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. There is no timetable for Embiid’s return.

An Embiid-James tandem is tantalizing in Philly.

James can opt out of his contract this summer – he has a $35.6 option – with Cleveland and become a free agent. With a glut of young talent and spacious room under the salary cap, Philadelphia has frequently been mentioned as a landing spot for James. Three billboards, paid for by a Pennsylvania company, popped up recently in Ohio urging James to sign with the 76ers this summer.

Sixers’ Twitter even seemed divided on how to handle James – boo him or woo him with kindness?

It’s Philly. Take a guess which reaction won.

James was booed each time he touched the ball and signs were spotted in the stands that read “Keep Cryin’ in Cleveland” and “We Don’t Want You.”

He brought the sellout crowd to their feet on his missed dunk.

The Sixers had them standing and roaring on almost every possession.

The only way the Sixers could have possibly rubbed it in more in the first half was if Iverson left his courtside seat and stepped over Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue just for old times’ sake.

Redick hit three 3s and had 19 at halftime and Simmons flirted with a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for the 78-55 lead.

The seeding takes on added importance with both teams chances at making a long postseason run increasing once Boston lost Kyrie Irving for the season.

 

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.