Ben Simmons scores 31 points, 76ers beat Nets without Joel Embiid

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NEW YORK — Ben Simmons scored a career playoff-high 31 points, Tobias Harris added 29 points and 16 rebounds and the Philadelphia 76ers shook off the absence of Joel Embiid to beat the Brooklyn Nets 131-115 on Thursday night for a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

Without their All-Star man in the middle, the 76ers relied on Simmons slashing to the basket, and Harris and JJ Redick shooting from the perimeter.

“We have the pieces to get games, to complete games and I think everybody in the organization knows that,” Simmons said.

Simmons was 11 for 13 from the field, repeatedly getting to the rim even with the Nets sagging well off him in hopes he would shoot a jumper. He added nine assists and eventually quieted a crowd that loudly booed him every time he touched the ball early.

Harris had his playoff highs in both points and rebounds, and was 6 for 6 from 3-point range. Redick was 5 of 9 behind the arc and finished with 26 points.

“Listen, I think their big players came to play,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Ben had a great game, I thought JJ was great, Tobias also hit some big 3s.”

Embiid warmed up before the game but the 76ers announced shortly before the start that the All-Star center wouldn’t be available because of a sore left knee. Greg Monroe started in his place and had nine points and 13 rebounds.

“Just came in, obviously with Joel down that’s a big scoring loss that we had there,” Harris said. “So just had to be aggressive from the start.”

D'Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert each scored 26 points for the Nets. They have dropped the last two games after surprising the No. 3 seed in the opener in Philadelphia.

Energized by a lively Brooklyn crowd seeing playoff basketball for the first time since 2015 and perhaps by the absence of Embiid, who averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the first two games, the Nets started well but then stalled. They went about 4 1/2 minutes without a basket and Philadelphia took advantage to lead 32-24 after one.

The lead quickly went into double digits in the second before LeVert got going. He scored six straight points and had Brooklyn’s first 14 of the period to tie it at 38. The 76ers regained control and opened an 11-point lead with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining before halftime, but LeVert had another burst to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 65-59 at the break. He finished with 19 points in the period.

Redick hit a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around Harris’ three-point play, pushing it to 81-67, and another 3 by Redick had the Sixers leading 97-81 with 1:16 left in the third. But a four-point play by Spencer Dinwiddie highlighted Brooklyn’s run of nine straight points to end the period and trim it to 97-90.

The Nets cut it to six in the fourth on Russell’s 3-pointer, but the 76ers soon pulled away again.

TIP-INS

76ers: Simmons was 5 for 5 on free throws when the Nets fouled him intentionally with 3:38 remaining. He missed both, but hit two on the next possession and finished 9 for 11. … Monroe didn’t even make his Sixers debut until April 6.

Nets: Brooklyn was 8 for 39 (20.5%) from 3-point range. … LeVert’s 19 points were the most he scored in any quarter of his career. … The Nets had won their last three Game 3s.

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in Brooklyn.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.

Knicks’ offseason a giant flop

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

In the midst of agreeing to sign Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock, the Knicks released a statement.

“While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents,” Knicks president Steve Mills said.

This is as close as we’ll ever get to a team apologizing for its transactions in real time.

What an embarrassment.

Knicks owner James Dolan went on TV in March and strongly suggested top free agents would sign with the Knicks this summer. Everyone inferred Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Instead, Durant and Irving signed with the crosstown Nets without even meeting with the Knicks. The Knicks pathetically put out word they didn’t offer Durant the max due to his injury (as if they would’ve balked had he actually wanted to come) and cancelled a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, who was never coming.

All New York’s planning – stretching Joakim Noah, trading Kristaps Porzingis to clear salary, hyping itself – went to waste on mediocre free agents.

At least the Knicks remain flexible. It’s just tough to see how they turn that flexibility into winning.

Dolan said no incumbent players will become the centerpiece. New York is already acknowledging how disappointing the newly signed free agents look.

That leaves a lot of pressure on No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett, himself a disapointment.

Despite an 86% chance of not getting the No. 1 pick, Knicks fans treated Zion Williamson as a near-inevitability. He was viewed as the rightful reward for a miserable 17-65 season.

This was the wrong lottery to slip. There’s a huge drop in prospect quality from Williamson to Ja Morant to Barrett. Barrett profiles as a leading player, and maybe he’ll be good enough to fill that role on a good team. But this draft was always going to leave the third-picking team with unreliable options.

Randle (three years, $56.7 million with $4 million of $19.8 million guaranteed in year three) was the big addition in free agency. He’ll put up numbers. He’s also only 24 and has shown improvement throughout his career. Maybe he’ll develop defensively and better contribute to winning. Still, it’ll take major modifications to their games for Randle and Barrett to flourish together long-term.

Not that this team represents much of whatever the Knicks are building toward.

Portis ($15 million), Gibson ($9 million), Ellington ($8 million), Payton ($8 million) and Bullock ($4 million) look like stopgaps. After those starting salaries, each has a barely/unguaranteed second season. They all look like trade chips, though most must exceed expectations on the court to hold more than neutral value. Ellington looks like the best deal.

Really, the short contract I like most is Marcus Morris‘ (one year, $15 million). New York signed him after Bullock failed his physical and agreed to a smaller contract. I don’t know why the Knicks prioritized so many other players over Morris, who committed to the Spurs before Bullock’s spine injury gave New York more cap space.

The Knicks could really use a young player like Porzingis now. He’d provide plenty of optimism amid their listless present.

Still, New York can still come out ahead in the Porzingis trade. He was an injury-prone player on the verge of getting a max contract. The Knicks got a couple extra first-rounders.

But clearing Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s an Courtney Lee‘s burdensome contracts was a key part of the trade. That aspect has now gone for naught.

New York is heading toward another lost season. A weak free agent class follows. It’ll take a while for the Knicks to build back up.

This summer – which the Knicks began with the best lottery position, massive cap space and a premier market – was a huge missed opportunity. Even getting past the New York noise and the misplaced expectations this franchise incites, that burns.

Offseason grade: D

Mark Cuban on Dirk Nowitzki owning part of Mavericks: ‘It would be awesome’

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Dirk Nowitzki is enjoying his retirement, and the former Dallas Mavericks star has been a real player in the NBA offseason. This summer has been great for Nowitzki, and next season Dallas will actually feature a logo on their court of his outline taking his famous fadeaway jumper.

But could Nowitzki end up owning a part of the Dallas Mavericks some day?

According to current owner Mark Cuban, that’s definitely a real possibility. Speaking with DallasBasketball.com, Cuban said that he could see that for Dirk in the future.

Via DallasBasketball.com:

“Absolutely,” Cuban told DallasBasketball.com in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview. “I’ll have the convo with Dirk in the future. There is a lot of things involved to make it all work. But it would be awesome.”

Everyone seems like they are trying to get into the franchise ownership game. We know that both LeBron James and potentially Kobe Bryant want to move in this direction, and Nowitzki joining that crew would be no surprise.

No doubt Dallas fans would love to have Dirk as part of the organization moving forward, and it would be a no-brainer for Nowitzki to have that kind of revenue stream moving forward.