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Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston

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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) Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston. This is how special a player Joel Embiid is: After dropping 22 and 10 on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Tuesday night in a Sixers win, Shaq and Charles Barkley (on TNT’s Inside the NBA) ripped Embiid for not being dominant enough.

This is how special a player Joel Embiid was Thursday night: Boston’s Enes Kanter had probably his best game as a Celtics’ big man, and he couldn’t even slow Embiid, who had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Embiid was the best player on the floor and was having fun in a 115-109 Philadelphia win on the road.

Shaq and Barkley are right to a degree, and Embiid even admitted as much after the game — he can be more dominant than he has shown this season. “Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate,” Embiid said, via Noah Levine at NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Of course, Shaq won his rings when he didn’t have to be that dominant every night because he had someone else who could step up and take over (Kobe, Dwyane Wade). Nobody is sure who that would be on the Sixers. Tobias Harris stepped up with 23 points in this game, but Ben Simmons just has not been the guy the Sixers need. He finished the night with 7 points on 2-of-6 shooting. Josh Richardson seems to have more pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid than Simmons. Still, Simmons makes a few plays every game that shows what he can be.

Philly also won this game because their defense was impressive in the second half. Their length bothered Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who shot a combined 8-of-27.

When the Sixers defend like they did in the second half, and when Embiid is dominant like he was, Philadelphia looks like the second-best team in the East and a threat to Milwaukee. We just haven’t seen it consistently this season.

Boston has now lost back-to-back games to good East teams — Indiana and Philadelphia — and while it’s just December and far too early to panic, it also shows why Boston may want to be active around the trade deadline if they can find a good deal (but stop with the Kevin Love talk, that’s not happening).

2) Former NBA Commissioner David Stern suffers brain hemorrhage, has to undergo emergency surgery. David Stern collapsed at a Manhattan restaurant on Thursday and was raced to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. That means bleeding in or around the brain, and that is as bad and life-threatening as it sounds.

The NBA released this statement.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The reaction around the NBA was immediate.

Stern, 77, took over as NBA commissioner back when Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern came along at the right time — first the Magic/Bird era and rivalry, then Michael Jordan — but he understood what an opportunity this was for the league and changed how it marketed itself, it became a league of stars. That remains to this day. He grew the NBA into one of the most dominant sports leagues on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family.

3) Luka Doncic muy impresionante in Mexico City. There were “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants in the Arena Ciudad de Mexico Thursday night — Mexico City loves Luka Doncic.

Doesn’t everyone right now?

Doncic did everything right Thursday, from addressing the crowd pregame in fluent Spanish (he played for Real Madrid in Spain before coming to the NBA) to dropping a 41-point triple-double on the Pistons to get the Mavericks another win, 122-111. Doncic finished the night with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Seth Curry added 30 as the Pistons found out just how good that Dallas offense is. Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and got Andre Drummond’s attention.

Dallas is 17-7 on the season and looks like a team that could have home court for the first round of the playoffs.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.