Three Things to Know: Emotional celebration of Kobe’s life just start of day for Harden, Booker

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Emotional, moving Kobe Bryant Celebration of Life just start of the day for James Harden, Devin Booker. The most fitting way to honor Kobe Bryant? Play the game of basketball with passion. Leave everything on the court.

James Harden and Devin Booker did just that.

Harden, Booker, and Russell Westbrook were at the powerful and unforgettable Kobe Bryant Celebration of Life memorial Monday afternoon at Staples Center in Los Angeles. All three left that event, hopped on charter flights, and were playing in NBA games that night.

Harden had 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting, leading the small-ball Rockets past the Knicks.

Westbrook also was in Los Angeles and then in Houston for the game, but he did not play (officially due to a sure thumb).

Booker’s flight took him to Salt Lake City where he scored a fitting 24 points to spark the Suns in an upset win over the stumbling Utah Jazz.

However, the most impressive double-duty of the day belonged to Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu. She spoke at Kobe’s memorial that morning.

Then she was on a plane to the Bay Area where she laced them up for the Ducks against Stanford and made history becoming the first college basketball player — male or female — to score 2,000 points and have 1,000 rebounds and 1,0000 assists in a career.

Somewhere, Kobe is smiling watching the way Ionescu plays. That passion is the most fitting way to honor him.

2) Bradley Beal scores 50+ points for the second straight game. Wizards lose for the second straight game.
Bradley Beal is putting up up points like he’s an NBA Jam game come to life — “He’s on fire!” In Chicago Sunday night Beal scored a career-high 53 points, but Washington still lost in Chicago.

Monday night against the Bucks Beal topped it, scoring 55 points — including 22 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then seven more in the extra frame — and still the Wizards lost. Again.

Around the league last summer, teams were making calls to see if the Wizards were ready to trade Beal. Instead, he took the cash and showed his loyalty to the franchise by signing a max extension. Beal and everyone else knew the Wizards would struggle this season, he made his $71 million decision (and you can’t blame a man for getting paid).

Those trade calls are going to start up again next summer, but the Wizards are intent on getting John Wall back on the court with Beal and their younger players such as Rui Hachimura then making a playoff push next season. Beal is not going to be on the move. Yet.

Also of note out of Milwaukee’s win, Khris Middleton scored Milwaukee’s final nine points on his way to 40 for the night.

3) Joel Embiid scores career-high 49 points in 76ers win. Joel Embiid is another one of the NBA players who has talked about how much Kobe influenced him — watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals is what inspired him to play basketball.

Embiid played inspired ball on Monday night, scoring a career-high 49 points plus grabbing 14 rebounds in a 76ers win at home over the Hawks.

That win leaves Philadelphia just one game back in the loss column from Miami for home court in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. (A Heat/76ers matchup is looking more and more likely in that first round.)

However, the Sixers found out Monday that Ben Simmons will be out for an indefinite amount of time due to lower back pain. Losing the All-Star could be a blow to the Sixers home court (and maybe playoff) chances.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).