Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid returns, dominates inside, Sixers look like playoff threat

6 Comments

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 returns, dominates inside, Sixers look like playoff threat in beating Pacers. Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler are All-Stars. Tobias Harris should have been. They are all top 25 players in the NBA.

Joel Embiid is better than any of them — a true top-10 difference maker — and the Sixers need him if they are to be a real threat in the playoffs.

How much the big man in the middle means to Philadelphia was evident Sunday in his return from an eight-game absence — he had 33 points on 21 shots (18 of those points in the fourth quarter), 12 rebounds, and dominated the paint in a critical Sixers win over the Pacers, 106-89.

Embiid was a physical force inside that got Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in foul trouble, both Pacers big men picked up their fourth foul early in the third quarter and had to be cautious the rest of the way. Also, combined the two Pacers’ bigs shot 3-of-14. Meanwhile, Embiid shot 8-of-12 at the rim (although his outside shot showed plenty of rust, as did his entire game early). The Pacers shot 40.8 percent (20-of-49) in the paint.

The Sixers as a team cranked up the defense in the third quarter to take the lead, holding Indiana to 3-of-20 shooting for the frame.

The win moved the Sixers into a tie with the Pacers for the three seed in the East, with the Sixers likely to hold on to that spot because the Pacers have the much tougher schedule the rest of the way. For the Sixers that means avoiding Boston in a first-round series, which is something both sides wanted.

The Sixers have a lot to figure out during the last 15 games if they are going to be a genuine threat in the second round and beyond of the East playoffs. The halfcourt offense looked stagnant at points. Simmons has liked playing in the post at times this season, but that’s more complicated with Embiid out there, that dance needs to be worked out. Brett Brown has to figure out his rotations. The players just need to gel, sacrifice, and learn to trust each other.

But none of that was going to work without Embiid in the middle of it all. He is their anchor, their keystone, and the guy that makes it all work. He’s back, which means the Sixers are back to being a playoff threat.

2) Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. throws down a dunk of the year candidate. Damn. This just is not fair.

That is reminiscent of some of those old Blake Griffin dunks where he just seemed to fly and threw it into the basket. That’s what Jones does here. There are not many, if any, better dunks this season.

(By the way, if you’re going to argue it’s not a dunk because he threw it in the basket just stop, go sit in a meditative pose, and question why it is you hate fun and feel the need to be contrarian on such little things. Let it go and enjoy life and all basketball has to offer.)

3) Suns snap 18-straight game losing streak to Warriors; Kevin Durant injures ankle. The Warriors are bored, but is it morphing into more than that?

Before we question the Warriors, we have to start by propping up the giant killers, the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix is one of the NBA’s worst teams, one of the three teams with the best odds (14 percent) of landing Zion Williamson, yet they have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks and now Golden State Warriors in recent weeks. The Suns snapped an 18-game losing streak to the Warriors, coming from 16 points down at one point to win 115-111 behind 37 points from Devin Booker.

Against Denver last Friday night we saw what the Warriors can do when they focus and flip the switch. That’s the Warriors we will see in the playoffs.

But the Warriors had issues in this game.

The potentially biggest was Kevin Durant going down with an ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter.

Coach Steve Kerr said he didn’t think the injury was that bad, but as with all sprained ankles it is how things look the next morning that matters most.

Kerr was frustrated with his team and late in the game was caught saying what looks like “I’m so f****** tired of Draymond’s s*** …” — and that video went viral.

What he was referring to — attitude, missed shots, missed assignments — is unknown. Emotions were high and Kerr should have been frustrated in anyone in yellow yesterday. No Warrior played well.

Particularly on defense. Starting in the second quarter (when the boredom seemed to kick in) they had a had a lot of missed assignments, they didn’t stay in front of their man, and generally just went through the motions. It was an ugly loss. After the game, Klay Thompson tried a different tack and said the team needed more from the fans.

The fans will be deafening in Oracle if they are given something to cheer for. The players failed at that assignment.

Damian Lillard, tired of OKC’s talk/antics, called his shot a day before

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Oklahoma City is brash, a reflection of their best players. Russell Westbrook was talking throughout the series against Portland because, well, that’s Westbrook. Dennis Schroder was pointing at his watch — imitating Lillard time — as the Thunder won Game 3. Paul George threw down a dunk (just after the buzzer expired) rather than dribble out the end of the Thunder win.

Damian Lillard saw it all.

Inside he was fuming, in a rage that continues as he waved goodbye to the Thunder after hitting a historic jumper. He told Jason Quick of The Athletic what went through his mind as the shot fell through the net.

“Yeah,” Lillard said he thought in the moment. “What you all have to say now?”

Wednesday, Lillard posted this to Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

On to the next…

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

Lillard was boiling over the night before the final game of this series, at his home in Portland, as Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports details in a must-read piece on Lillard dropping the mic on OKC.

And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.

“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me. If they think I am, then we can take it off the court and find out for sure.

“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”

Lillard won. He outplayed Westbrook.

Coach Terry Stotts had pulled Lillard off the court before the end of Game 4, a 13-point Portland win on the road, and Lillard said that was probably good because if he had been on the court he might have jacked up a 30-footer at the buzzer to send a message. Instead, he waited a game. And Monday night Lillard said this:

“I’m going to get the last laugh,” he said. “I promise you that.”

Drop. The. Mic.

Paul George says he will deal with shoulder issues this summer, come back healthy

Getty Images
1 Comment

Paul George averaged 28.6 points per game against Portland in the first round, but he wasn’t his mid-season efficient self, shooting 31.9 percent from three, where he took 46.5 percent of his attempts. George tried to make up for it by attacking the rim and drawing fouls, and he averaged almost 10 shots from the charity stripe a game (9.8, which boosted his true shooting percentage to an impressive 58.3).

OKC needed more of George and less of Russell Westbrook settling for jumpers, but George’s jump shot just was not going down at the rate it did the first half of the season.

How much of that was his shoulder problems? George admitted that four days before the playoffs started he couldn’t lift his hand over his head he was in so much pain. George said it wasn’t an issue in the playoffs, but nobody really believed him.

George said postgame he would get his shoulder healthy this summer, but dodged the surgery question, via Royce Young of ESPN.

Whatever he does — rest, therapy, surgery, going to Lourdes and getting water on it — George needs to get healthy because his efficiency is critical if Oklahoma City is going to get out of the first round of the playoffs. It would help if Sam Presti and company can add some shooting around him and Russell Westbrook (easier said than done with their tight cap situation).

Is D’Angelo Russell worth a $27 million max contract? Will he get it?

Getty Images
3 Comments

D'Angelo Russell had a breakthrough year for the Brooklyn Nets.

He was an All-Star in his fourth NBA season, averaging 21.1 points and seven assists per game, and a lot of the jump came because his shooting improved — 36.9 percent from three, and a true shooting percentage of 53.3 that’s close to the league average. His hitting floaters and jumpers opened up the rest of this game, and his confidence grew as a leader. He pushed the Nets to the playoffs, where he and his team played tough but fell short against the more talented 76ers. Russell struggled to a 3-of-16 night in the closeout game Tuesday, it was a learning experience.

This summer Russell is a restricted free agent. Brooklyn wants to keep him… but for $27 million? That’s his starting salary at the max. Brian Lewis of the New York Post said that’s what Russell wants.

But he’s got a $21.1 million cap hold, and could get a max offer from a point guard-hungry team. That would be $27 million, which league sources have intimated is what Russell wants. The Nets haven’t shown themselves to being convinced he’s worth that much, and could well let the market decide.

The Nets have the right to match any offer, but would they go to the max to do it? League sources told me most teams see Russell as a step below max, however, if a team is trying to poach a player via restricted free agency they have to overpay to get the team with his rights to back off and not match. Ultimately, that means his agents (Austin Brown and Aaron Mintz) finding a team willing to pay the price to nab him. Depending upon how the draft lottery and the rest of free agency goes, that team may be out there.

Sean Marks and his Nets are going to have a very busy summer and Brooklyn — while it loves the team it built — may not look the same at all next season.

Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser: “I am no longer comfortable staying silent”

4 Comments

Kelli Tennant, the former reporter for the Lakers’ regional broadcast network who has stepped forward to accuse current Sacramento Kings and former Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Luke Walton of sexual assault, stepped in front of the cameras on Tuesday and stated her case.

Tennant has filed a civil suit against Walton and she, along with her attorney, conducted a press conference Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Tennent said the incident happened before Walton was the Lakers’ coach, back in 2016 when he was an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. She explained why it was years before she came forward, as reported by NBC 4 in Los Angeles.

“I was 25 when this first happened. As a young woman who had only been in this job for less than a year, who was incredibly grateful for where I was and had worked incredibly hard to get to that position, I was scared and I felt coming forward would jeopardize every aspect of my life,” she said.

It is not uncommon for sexual assault victims to feel powerless and not come forward for years, particularly in high-profile cases where they know the public nature and the backlash that will follow — regardless of truth — from the accusations.

“I am no longer comfortable staying silent… No woman should ever be made to feel like a victim.”

Tennant also described the alleged incident that she says took place in a Santa Monica hotel room. She said they had a professional relationship and she had met him to discuss him writing the forward to a book she was writing.

“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down, with all his weight. He kissed my neck and my face and my chest. And as I kept asking him to please stop and to get off, he laughed at me.

“I thought he was going to rape me. I was finally able to get up after what felt like forever. And I immediately jumped up to leave the room, and he came around and grabbed me from behind and again held my arms down so I could not move. And started kissing my neck again. I kept begging him to please let go and to please stop. And he continued to laugh in my ear. He finally let me go, and I got out of the room.”

Walton, through his attorney Mark Baute, has denied these allegations.

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

The NBA, Sacramento Kings, and Golden State Warriors all say they are investigating the allegations. Sources say the Kings and league knew nothing about the incident prior to the lawsuit being filed, and there was no record of it being brought to the Santa Monica Police Department.

The Lakers released this comment: “This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”