Associated Press

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.

LeBron James finishes Rajon Rondo alley-oop to close out half (VIDEO)

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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One of the reasons LeBron James leads the league in assists — other than the fact he can do anything on the basketball court he wants — is that he was the Lakers’ only quality playmaker to start the season. He had to set guys up.

Until Rajon Rondo returned recently from injury.

Now Rondo is setting up everyone — including LeBron for this monster alley-oop just before the half Tuesday night.

LeBron can still finish with the best of them.

Just don’t ask him about doing the dunk contest.

 

New Orleans spoils Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut in 115-104 Pelicans win

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 10 assists, Brandon Ingram added 21 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans spoiled Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut with a 115-104 victory over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Anthony finished with 10 points while Portland leading scorer and four-time All-Star Damian Lillard missed his first game of the season with back spasms.

Starting at forward and playing across the street from where he led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship over Kansas, Anthony scored the Blazers’ first points of the game on a 3-pointer from 26 feet out. However, he wound up missing 10 of 14 shots in what was the first game of his 17th NBA season.

Ingram looked spry in his return from right knee soreness that sidelined him four games, particularly on an authoritative, driving, one-handed dunk that got the crowd roaring in the opening quarter.

J.J. Redick hit 4 of 9 3-pointers and scored 14 points for New Orleans, which has won two straight and three of four. Kenrich Williams, who got the start at forward, filled the stat sheet with hustle plays, grabbing 14 rebounds to go with three steals and a blocked shot. He also scored eight points.

Holiday highlighted his night with a spinning dribble around Nassir Little for a driving dunk. In the second half, he scored on an unusual play in which he remained under his own basket, re-tying his shoes while his team advanced 4-on-5 into the offensive end. Holiday then came sprinting down court, took a handoff from Nicolo Melli near the 3-point line and exploded toward the rim for a layup.

C.J. McCollum led Portland with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Anthony wasted no time getting his first shot off. His miss from 20 feet came within the opening 30 seconds and was Portland’s first shot of the game. Anthony also took Portland’s second shot, hitting his first of two made 3s.

But when Anthony tried to rise for a two-handed dunk in the first half, he was met with resistance by a member of the NBA’s rookie class when eighth overall draft pick Jaxson Hayes rejected the attempt.

Hayes closed out the half with his third block, swatting away a driving floater by Anfernee Simons to keep Portland’s lead at 54-53.

New Orleans seized momentum in the third quarter, going up by 13 on a sequence that began when Melli hit a 3 and then got the ball right back in a largely vacated Portland back court after Nickeil Alexander-Walker dove to swipe the ball away from McCollum. Melli went straight in for a dunk that made it 83-70.

Portland responded with three quick 3s — two by Kent Bazemore — during a 9-2 run that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to six before Alexander-Walker, who had hit 11 3s in his previous two games, ended the period by banking in a straightaway 3 to make it 88-79.

Watch Carmelo Anthony’s first bucket as a Trail Blazer

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That Carmelo Anthony started the first game he played for Portland speaks to why they signed him in the first place — this team is so shorthanded along the front line that the guy they just signed got thrown into the fire.

Anthony responded with a solid level of play. His first bucket was a wing three where both defenders went to CJ McCollum and left ‘Melo wide open.

Anthony played 12 minutes in the first half and had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and three fouls. The team was looking to keep him at around 20 minutes for his first game back.

Portland led New Orleans 54-53 at the half.

How a single computer folder and dogged HR official exposed former Kings executive’s $13.4M embezzlement scheme

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Just how close did Jeff David come to getting away with embezzling $13.4 million from the Kings while working for them? He already secured a new job with the Heat and was in the process of moving from Sacramento to Miami.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

On this Monday, walking through the Davids’ new front door is a dizzying procession of cable guys, utility workers and movers. Amid all of this, Jeff receives a phone call from a former co-worker with the Kings. Her name is Stacy Wegzyn, and she works in HR. Jeff last remembers sitting in her office in Sacramento just months earlier, being told that the Kings were going to eliminate his position. After a few pleasantries, she gets down to business. She tells Jeff she’s been going through his old files, and in doing so she found one labeled “TurboTax” that references an entity called Sacramento Sports Partners.

“I was just curious what that is and if those are documents that should go to somebody else,” Wegzyn says.

It’s a seemingly innocuous inquiry from an HR lifer. But it’s one that will dictate the rest of Jeff David’s life. If he knows that — or senses it — he doesn’t let on.

“No, no, no,” Jeff responds. “That was a … man, this is taking me back. Maybe 2015?”

Wegzyn presses on. She asks Jeff whether the documents contain anything that anyone with the Kings needs to see. Jeff assures her they can trash them because the entity isn’t around anymore. A few minutes after he hangs up, his mother-in-law, Nancy, is standing at the front door when an FBI investigator appears, asking to speak to Jeff.

If you like the NBA or true crime – let alone both – I HIGHLY recommend reading Arnovitz’s full piece. It’s riveting!