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Three Things to Know: New lineup doesn’t change fact Boston is problem for Philadelphia

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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) New stars, new lineup doesn’t change fact Boston is a problem for Philadelphia. The Celtics came into Tuesday night off two big blown leads and ugly losses to the teams from Los Angeles. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was riding high, the addition of Tobias Harris into the starting lineup had led to wins showing off crisp ball movement and offensive versatility. The Sixers were talked about as a Finals threat, while people wondered if Boston was now the fourth best team in the East.

Then they played a game that looked a lot like last season’s 4-1 Boston playoff win.

Al Horford bothered Joel Embiid much of the night, and the Celtics’ big man scored 23 to match Embiid. There was no Kyrie Irving, but Jayson Tatum stepped up with 20 and was a shot creator all night. Plus, the man can finish around the rim.

Meanwhile, Marcus Morris backed up his words calling out his team and scored 23 on 16 shots. Gordon Hayward had 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting off the bench.

Boston hunted out and exploited mismatches all night, and the result was a 112-109 Boston win on the road that reminded everyone the Celtics are going to be a force to deal with in the playoffs.

For the 76ers, there are concerning signs out of this loss. Once again, when slowed down and easy transition buckets are taken away, the Sixer offense can bog down in the half court against a good defense. Embiid was 2-of-8 from three, and more than the percentage the problem is that’s more attempts than a guy who is a beast inside should have in a game. Also, Embiid will be writing a check to the league for his postgame comments that “the referees f****** suck” (he was frustrated about being in foul trouble most of the night and not getting a late foul call on Horford).

Ben Simmons had 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was attacking, but he was 2-of-7 from the free throw line and in the playoffs teams will exploit that by fouling him (he’s shooting 58.7 percent for the season). Harris struggled, shooting 4-of-14 overall and 0-of-6 from three for Philly. When T.J. McConnell was on the floor the Celtics went at him to expose his defense — and it worked.

On the bright side for Philly, their star-studded starting lineup was +4 in 22.7 minutes on the night. Looking ahead to a potential playoff matchup, the Philly may need more Jimmy Butler in this matchup, he had 22 points on 7-for-12 and was the most consistent shot creator the team had.

A pre-All-Star game will have little meaning if these teams meet up in the East playoffs again. Both teams will continue to evolve, the Celtics will get Irving back, and the 76ers should figure out how to make their new-look roster flow more smoothly.

Mostly, this game was a preview of how intense and close the East playoffs are going to be.

2) Lakers look like a team that needs the All-Star break, fall below .500 with an ugly loss to Hawks. Remember how LeBron James was going to come back from his groin injury and the Lakers were going to surge back up the standings and into the postseason? Yea… not so much. They are now 2-3 since his return.

Tuesday night, Los Angeles looked like a team that needed a vacation. With Magic Johnson looking on in person, the Lakers ended their Grammys road trip with a 117-113 loss to an Atlanta team that has shown growth and potential of late (they got 22 points each from Trae Young and John Collins).

If the Lakers don’t come back from their nine days off now for the All-Star break looking rested and refreshed, they are going to get a much earlier, much longer vacation than they planned on this summer. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Lakers a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs right now — it likely will take 45 wins or more to get a playoff spot in the West, the Lakers would need to go at least 17-8 down the stretch to hit that number.

Tuesday, the Lakers looked disinterested on the defensive end and their rotations were late, while on offense there was a lot of standing and ball watching. The Lakers didn’t act like a team that needs to make a playoff push, they acted like you do at work the day before your vacation starts.

Tuesday’s problems started at the top. LeBron James had a triple-double with 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds (and he played a lot more of this game at center than we’ve seen), but he also had some rough moments when it mattered. For example, there was when Trae Young blew past him for a key and-one bucket late.

Young missed the ensuing free throw, but LeBron’s man outworked him to get the offensive rebound and the Hawks got another shot. Earlier in the night, Young even nutmegged LeBron.

Plus, the Hawks fans heckled LeBron with “Kobe’s better” chants.

And LeBron was the best Laker on the floor. The Lakers miss Lonzo Ball (especially on defense), and the rest of the young core had one foot out the door on Tuesday.

The Lakers have the talent and could — even should — be able to make a run and get in front of the Kings and Clippers for a playoff spot in the West. But it’s not going to be handed to them, the Lakers need to earn it. Tuesday night they did not, they were not the hungry team on the court.

3) Klay Thompson dislocates a finger, pops it back in place, comes back in red hot and Warriors beat Jazz. It looked ugly. Midway through the first quarter, Klay Thompson dislocated his left ring finger, it was pointing a way fingers simply should not.

Thompson had hit popped back in place, taped up, then shot 8-of-11 the rest of the way in the Warriors win over the Jazz, 115-108.

The Jazz, with Rudy Gobert in the paint (he should have been an All-Star) have been a tough matchup for the Warriors, and that was the case again. What the Warriors got was a strong defensive game from Draymond Green, enough from Kevin Durant, and the Warriors got the win because they got 74 points out of their big three.

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.