Joel Embiid scores 39, grabs 13 rebounds to beat Nets

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Joel Embiid is raising his game in anticipation of the playoffs.

Embiid had 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 123-110 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.

JJ Redick scored 18 points and Ben Simmons had 16 points and eight assists for the 76ers, who snapped a two-game losing streak.

The game matched teams that would’ve met in the first round of the playoffs had the postseason started Thursday. The 76ers have a strong hold on the No. 3 seed in the East with seven games remaining, and they moved three games ahead of idle Indiana.

“We might see them in the playoffs, so it was good to see where we’re at, especially after two losses,” Embiid said. “I’ve been feeling it. I’ve been getting ready. I’m excited.”

Embiid has a bad taste in his mouth from last season’s second-round exit via Boston. In that series, Embiid was forced to wear a mask to protect an eye injury. He’s preparing for a deeper postseason run this time around.

“It’s definitely going to be a different story,” he said.

Embiid did his damage inside and outside against the Nets. The All-Star center got off to a fast start, scoring 14 of Philadelphia’s first 19 points while making five of seven shots, including all three 3-point tries.

Joe Harris scored 22 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 19 for Brooklyn, which is clinging to a playoff spot.

The Nets began Thursday sixth in the East, but dropped to seventh with Detroit’s 115-98 win over Orlando on Thursday. Brooklyn is a half-game in front of No. 8 Miami and just one game ahead of the ninth-place Magic and two games clear of No. 10 Charlotte.

“We have to be better to beat a team like this,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said.

Brooklyn finished a grueling seven-game road trip 2-5. And it doesn’t get easier for the Nets, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

Brooklyn’s remaining six-game schedule includes contests against Boston, Toronto, Indiana, Miami and a pair vs. Milwaukee.

“We have to recharge our batteries,” Atkinson said. “It’s been a long trip. We have to somehow get that juice back. We lacked a little juice tonight.”

Philadelphia surged to an early lead and never let go.

Helped by making eight of their first 10 3-point attempts, the 76ers led by as many as 20 points in the first half before settling for a 68-58 lead at the break. The Nets closed to within six at 71-65 and had a chance to cut it to four with Rodions Kurucs at the line for two free throws 2:42 into the third quarter. But Kurucs missed both foul shots, and Philadelphia ran off 10 straight to take a 15-point lead.

“It’s really bitten us,” Atkinson said of the free-throw shooting. “You have to make your free throws.”

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

The teams received a combined four technical fouls. Three of the fouls came in the first half, all from referee Scott Foster for arguing calls. For Philadelphia, Embiid and Jimmy Butler were whistled for techs, while Brooklyn’s D'Angelo Russell received one. Simmons was called for a tech in the second half for dissent.

HEAD GAME

Embiid, Butler and Mike Scott wore tie-back headbands. It was Embiid’s idea, and the big man said he might stick to the fashion statement after draining three 3-pointers.

TIP-INS

Brooklyn: Allen Crabbe (right knee) missed his sixth straight game. … The Nets dropped to 17-22 on the road. … Brooklyn struggled from the free-throw line, shooting 19 of 29. … Russell, who was averaging 28.3 points on the road trip, scored 13.

Philadelphia: Assistant coach Billy Lange accepted the head coaching job at Saint Joseph’s University on Thursday. Lange’s duties coaching the defense will be assumed by Jim O’Brien. … Philadelphia improved to 30-9 at home and 13-7 since adding Tobias Harris.

UP NEXT

Brooklyn: Open a three-game homestand Saturday against Boston.

Philadelphia: At Minnesota Saturday night.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Boston, Philadelphia, Denver? (And some playoff talk)

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Will Kyrie Irving stay in Boston? If not, what is Plan B?

Is Jimmy Butler back in Philadelphia next season? If he is will Tobias Harris be back?

What are the next steps to turn Denver into a contender?

I get into all of those things with the wise Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (and Celtics Blog, and Real GM), we break down those three teams recently turned out of the playoffs. We also start off talking about teams actually in the playoffs, particularly Toronto’s comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals, and how those teams can take advantage against the Warriors with Kevin Durant out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.