Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Upset Saturday leaves Sixers, Raptors, Nuggets in hole

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The NBA playoffs are underway and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Maybe there is something to having to win down the stretch of the regular season — to basically have your playoffs start early — when it comes to being ready for Game 1.

1) Joel Embiid is not himself and Sixers earn boos from fans in a loss to Nets. Sixers fans suffered through the losing of “The Process” for this? They know good basketball when they see it, but Sixers fans didn’t see it on Saturday in Game 1… well, not true, they saw it from a scrappy Nets team that picked up a 111-102 Game 1 win on the road.

Philadelphia fans didn’t see it from their hometown Sixers, who looked tight. So the fans booed.

Ben Simmons did not appreciate that, saying “If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”

Simmons earned those boos, however, with his nine-point, seven-rebound, three-assist night where the Nets dared him to shoot jump shots and he passed on those invitations. Simmons was not the playmaker Philadelphia needed him to be.

Joel Embiid was not the player the Sixers needed him to be. The Sixers best player was a game-time decision with knee pain but decided to play through it and wasn’t himself, except in flashes. Embiid put up numbers — 22 points on 5-of-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, and five blocks — but he wasn’t able to impact the game the way he was used to. He started the game shooting 1-of-9 and was not moving well at points.

In what seemed to symbolize the Sixers approach to the night, Amir Johnson and Embiid were caught checking texts on a phone during the loss. Johnson was fined by the team for that.

Brooklyn, a team of underdogs and cast-offs, played harder and with more passion than the star-studded Sixers. The Nets had a we-have-nothing-to-lose attitude that seemed to free them. D’Angelo Russell, in his playoff debut, was 3-of-15 shooting in the first half, but was 7-of-10 in the second half and finished with 26. Russell made sure there would be no comeback.

Philly did get 36 from Jimmy Butler.

One of the questions for Philadelphia this playoffs was how the team would handle adversity. We’re going to find out starting Monday night in Game 2.

2) The more things change, the more they stayed the same for Toronto in Game 1 loss. This was the year that was going to be different. They have Kawhi Leonard. They have a deeper roster. They have a coach who focused on preparing them for the playoffs along each step of the 82-game season. These Raptors were ready for the playoffs…

And they lost Game 1 at home 104-101 after D.J. Augustin did this.

Kyle Lowry had zero points. Raptors fans have seen this movie from him before in the playoffs, but check out this shot chart

Kawhi Leonard was up and down, and the Raptors went as he did. When he was 4-of-4 shooting for 11 points in the first quarter, Toronto was up five and seemed to be in control. When he was 0-of-5 and didn’t score in the second quarter the Raptors were outscored by 13. And so it went, right down to the final shot of the game, Leonard’s “answer” to Augustin’s shot.

The Magic have been in playoff mode for a while, they had to close the season 22-9 just to make the playoffs. Orlando was ready. Toronto, not so much.

This series is far from over, but now it falls to the Raptors to prove that this season will be different from the last few.

3) Nikola Jokic has a triple-double in playoff debut but it’s not enough as San Antonio wins. The last guy to get a triple-double in his playoff debut? You might not remember him because he’s not in the playoffs this season, but it was LeBron James back in 2006. Nikola Jokic did it on Saturday with 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists. He also played solid defense all game.

But in crunch time the Nuggets lacked a scorer who could take over. Denver and Jokic tried to play the team game they had all season, giving up good shots looking for great shots, when what they needed was someone to just take and make a few shots.

Nobody was making shots, the Nuggets shooting woes from the end of the regular season followed them into the playoffs. Maybe Mike Malone needs to put Rocky in the game.

The Spurs were poised under pressure. Shocking, I know. They played like a franchise that has been to the playoffs for 22 straight years. Derrick White was the best Spur on the floor, with 16 points on offense and defense that smothered Jamal Murray on the other end. The Spurs needed that on a night DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combined to shoot 33.3 percent.

The Spurs were the trendy first-round upset pick and in Game 1 they showed why — they knew how to execute under pressure.

Now the pressure is ramped up on the Nuggets for Game 2, we’ll see how they respond.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”