Three Things to Know: James Harden drops 42; Celtics roll over in face of adversity

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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) James Harden drops 42, Celtics roll over in the face of adversity. Again. James Harden puts unique pressures on a defense. He’s physical and knows how to use his shoulder to create space going to the rim. He’s got ridiculous handles. He’s got the best step-back in the game. He is a good passer who can find shooters when you collapse on him. And it helps when he gets away with this.

When faced with those pressures Sunday, on national television, the Celtics just folded. Again. Houston was in control almost the entire game and won 115-104, handing the Celtics their fifth loss in six games since the All-Star break (and now Boston heads out on a four-game road trip through the West). Harden finished with 42.

Once again the Celtics played like a bunch of individuals, and that is more obvious on defense than anywhere else. Houston’s Eric Gordon had 20 points in the first half, yet early in the third quarter Boston lost him off cuts on consecutive possessions. It forced Brad Stevens to call a timeout. Who led the team after that? Semi Ojeleye yelled at them in the huddle. Jaylen Brown had another high-energy outing off the bench (he’s got to start for the struggling Marcus Morris).

Kyrie Irving? Sure he had 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but after the game he seemed a combination of angry, frustrated, and detached. He didn’t sound like a leader.

There is plenty of blame to go around — Irving, Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, frankly every player gets a little — but what the Celtics need is leadership. Someone to unify them. Someone to get them to believe in themselves. Someone to get them to put out a focused effort nightly.

I’m just not sure that person is in the locker room. I’m not sure there is time for them to pull this all together before the playoffs.

2) Trae Young hits ridiculous three then gets even more ridiculous ejection for stare down of Kris Dunn. I get why NBA referees are frustrated — players seem to complain about every call, even the obvious ones, and will try to incite the crowd with gestures while doing it. The referees feel more targeted than they have in a long time.

But overreaction calls like this one don’t help. This is just ridiculous.

Atlanta’s Trae Young hit a deep three over Kris Dunn then starred down Dunn a little — and got tossed for taunting.

Even the Bulls players were at a loss.

It’s an emotional game. It’s entertainment. Let the players show that — it’s why we tune in. We want them to care, to be passionate, to talk a little smack and stare some guys down. Some lines should not be crossed, but Young was nowhere near that.

If you want the referees perspective.

That wasn’t the only overly eager technical handed out Sunday.

3) Detroit beats Toronto in OT improving to 9-2 in last 11. Suddenly the Detroit Pistons are emerging as a team the elite would like to avoid in the first round of the playoffs in the East.

It started 15 games ago when Andre Drummond returned from concussion protocol, since then he has averaged 20.5 points a game on 62.6 percent shooting, and he’s grabbing 15.7 rebounds a game. Add to that point guard Reggie Jackson started to find his groove. And Blake Griffin has stepped up in the shot-creating/leader role, and is even hitting circus shots like this (although this one didn’t count).

Sunday the Raptors sat Kawhi Leonard (load management) but the team still came in 13-4 without him, they are still deep with talent (Kyle Lowry had an impressive 35 on the night). The Pistons were deeper for a day. Griffin had 27 points, Drummond added 15 points and 17 rebounds, Jackson had 19 including a clutch three in overtime, and Luke Kennard added 19 off the bench, too.

The Pistons are clicking, 9-2 in their last 11 with a +10.9 net rating. They’ve had the best offense in the NBA during that stretch, at 118.1 per 100 (and the defense is fifth in the league).

With Sunday’s win, the Pistons are at .500 (31-31) and are the sixth seed now in the East. Keep playing like this and Detroit will make life difficult for some team in the first round of the playoffs.

Report: Pau Gasol near one-year deal to play for Barcelona

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Pau Gasol, who just turned 40 this week, has said he wants to play one more season to give himself a chance of making the Spanish Olympic team next summer. He mentioned the Lakers or Barcelona as a preferred destination.

It looks like Gasol is headed back to where it all started for him, in Barcelona.

Nikos Varlas at eurohoops.net confirmed a rumor that had been floating around for a few days, that Gasol and Barcelona were near a deal.

The long-awaited return of the 40-year-old Spanish legend in Pau Gasol to the European basketball is very close to happening as the player is near an agreement in principle for a one-year deal with Barcelona. The deal is expected to get finalized later in the summer…

The ideal unfolding of Pau Gasol’s story would be that the Spaniard completes a full circle in his career with one year at Barca and then retire after one final Olympic run with the national team in Tokyo.

We have to start with the caveat: In these uncertain times, nothing is guaranteed until Gasol puts pen to paper, and that has yet to happen. This could all fall apart.

Gasol has to prove to Barca he can stay healthy — he only played 30 games in 2018-19, then signed with Portland for this season but never saw the court due to a foot injury and was waived. Add to that his age and, understandably, Barcelona will want their medical people to get a good look at Gasol before agreeing to anything.

It would be a great story if it did come together, even if Gasol’s role is limited. One of the great players ever out of Europe, he would return to the club of his youth for one more season in the Spanish league, then end his career on the international stage at the Olympics. After that, the Hall of Fame is waiting.

 

Joel Embiid on NBA bubble: ‘I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough’

76ers center Joel Embiid
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76ers guard Shake Milton said, “I don’t really think we should be playing.” He’ll also presumably play for Philadelphia in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

That’s not as hypocritical as it sounds at first. Milton is concerned about basketball overshadowing the current movement for racial justice (a concern also voiced by Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard). But players collectively decided to continue the season. NBA games will proceed, with or without Milton. At that point, his desire for collective action was eliminated. He had to make a personal choice and decided to play.

His 76ers teammate, Joel Embiid, has a much more confusing stance.

Embiid, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I hated the idea,” Embiid said. “I feel like with everything that has been going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously people look at it in a different way. There might be some other reasons behind everything going on. To me, that part never mattered. To me, all I want is to stay healthy and stay safe, keep the people around me safe. I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of consequences in the future from this if I were to be in a situation where I was getting the virus.
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

“Because I know I’m going to do the right things, I know I don’t ever do anything, I only play video games, I’m always home — I don’t do anything. But then again, I don’t trust those other guys to do the same. But, like I said, I’ve gotta do my job.

I don’t understand this. If Embiid doesn’t think the bubble is “going to be safe enough,” why go?

Of course, the bubble won’t be perfectly safe. Nothing is perfectly safe, and many normal activities are more dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic. Damian Lillard expressed similar distrust of other players follow the protocols.

But each player must make his own judgment about “safe enough.”

There are reasons to play – money (individually and collectively), a chance to win, representing those important to you. Those must be weighed against the risks. Embiid did that and seemingly decided to play.

Is he having second thoughts? Did he just not choose words carefully enough while discussing his very-legitimate concerns?

I’d like to hear more about what Embiid means.

Spurs’ Patty Mills says he’ll donate remaining salary ($1,017,818.54) to fight racism

Spurs guard Patty Mills
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Patty Mills will play in the NBA restart, and the San Antonio guard said Wednesday that the reason why he’s decided to participate is so he can give just over $1 million of his salary to causes in his native Australia devoted to fighting racism.

The exact amount, Mills said, for the Spurs’ eight remaining regular-season, or seeding, games will be $1,017,818.54. He will split that money between three causes – Black Lives Matter Australia, another group that deals with the problem of Blacks dying when in custody, and to the newly formed We Got You campaign that he helped organize to address the issues of racism within Australian sport.

“So, I’m playing in Orlando because I don’t want to leave any money on the table that could be going directly to Black communities,” Mills said.

Mills isn’t the only player that has announced he will be donating his salary for the eight games to charity. Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard revealed earlier this week that he will give the remainder of his salary for the season to a charitable initiative he started called Breathe Again, which was designed to fight hatred and racism.

Mills is the longest currently tenured player on the Spurs.

“He’s a guy that I think everybody looks to for motivation and stuff like that,” Spurs teammate Trey Lyles said Wednesday, not long after Mills made his announcement. “I think along with his actions and his words backing up his actions … he’s definitely been somebody that I think not only the team but the league realizes is a community leader and somebody that’s always caring for other people.”

This is not the first time Mills has tried to shine a light on race-related issues this season.

Mills – an Australian whose mother is Aboriginal and whose father is from the Torres Strait Islands – and the Spurs hosted a celebration of Indigenous people back in January, which he hoped helped educate people on the importance of recognizing the value of other cultures.

“Australia is a great country. America is a great country,” Mills said. “We all have issues and different aspects. But the point of it is, is being able to come together to be able to work together.”

The Spurs leave for the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida on Thursday, when they will be among the final eight arrivals of the 22 teams that will be participating in the NBA restart. The season has been halted by the coronavirus pandemic since March 11.

Mills was to have earned about $12.5 million this season, had the season not been interrupted and some games been canceled because of the pandemic.

Report: Nets advancing toward signing Michael Beasley

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The Nets are cornering the market on past-their-prime scorers who haven’t played in the NBA this season.

After agreeing to sign Jamal Crawford, Brooklyn is moving onto forward Michael Beasley.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The NBA isn’t testing for marijuana at Disney World. Presumably, prior drug suspensions would still apply, though. Beasley must serve a five-game suspension (consistent with a third marijuana violation) if his NBA career resumes.

Brooklyn will play at least nine games in the resumption (eight seeding games and at least one play-in game). The Nets could play a second play-in game and/or make the playoffs. But Beasley will likely be ineligible for a decent chunk of Brooklyn’s schedule.

The Nets have several players who won’t play the rest of the season – Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and Nicolas Claxton. This is turning into quite the patchwork roster.

Still, I wouldn’t expect much from Beasley.

He struggled on and off the court with the Lakers last season. Last summer, the Pistons looked at him and Joe Johnson and chose the over-the-hill Johnson. Beasley is now 31.

But Beasley grew up in Prince George’s County, Md., with Durant. The former No. 2 pick also has some talent that continues to intrigue. That’ll get him another opportunity.