Three things to know: Embiid makes his MVP case (Harden must be considered, too)

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The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Joel Embiid makes his MVP case with 40 points against Jazz

LeBron James is mid-season MVP frontrunner: He has the narrative that carried over from last playoffs, he has the “best player on the planet” tag, and he certainly has impressive statistics and leads a Lakers team that is the bar every other team has to clear to be considered a contender (a team that has stumbled of late without Anthony Davis, but that doesn’t tarnish LeBron much).

Joel Embiid has been better this season.

The 76ers big man made his MVP case on national television Wednesday night, going right at the mid-season Defensive Player of the Year leader (and two-time winner before) Rudy Gobert and putting up 40 points, grabbing 19 rebounds, playing strong defense, hitting the three that forced overtime, and generally looking dominant in a 76ers overtime win over the Jazz, 131-123.

In a battle of the No. 1 seeds in each conference, Philadelphia won because it had the best player on the floor — Embiid. That is the definition of an MVP statement.

Embiid has better statistics across the board than LeBron: more points per game (30.2), more rebounds (11.6 per game), and the advanced stats love Embiid, who has a higher true shooting percentage, higher usage rate, better PER, more win shares and better win shares per 48 minutes (and we could go on and on, but you get the point). LeBron’s role with the Lakers is different, he is asked to do far more playmaking for everyone in a point guard role (and he has far more assists to match that), but raw numbers favor Embiid. LeBron’s case is more based on the narrative and where he has positioned the Lakers as the benchmark for title talk in the NBA. (Nikola Jokic has made his MVP case as well and should be in this conversation, although his defense may leave him third.)

Embiid is his best when he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he had one Wednesday night — Gobert made third-team All-NBA as a center last season and Embiid believed he deserved that honor. Plus, Utah has been everyone’s darling the first half of the season with their ensemble play and winning streaks.

Embiid went right at Gobert at points (although Philly did a good job forcing Gobert off Embiid on switches), powering through the French big man on occasion and drawing fouls all night long (Donovan Mitchell went off on the officiating, scroll down to No. 3 of Three Things for more on that). On defense, Embiid had a couple of blocks but altered far more and showed his mobility — he showed out on Donovan Mitchell and other guards then recovered to protect the rim. He was a defensive force.

Philadelphia’s win was a reminder it is a contender at the top of the East, and it is there in large part because Embiid has found another level of his game under Doc Rivers. He is the best player on the No. 1 seed in the East — another definition of MVP.

There is half a season to go before votes are cast for this award, and to beat LeBron for MVP this season someone is going to have to be clear-and-away better because there seems to be a sentiment it’s LeBron’s turn, that he has lost out on chances in the past and deserves to be a five-time winner. That’s not wrong. LeBron James has been unquestionably great.

Embiid is just making the case he is better.

2) James Harden keeps playing like an MVP in his return to Houston

James Harden is not going to win the NBA’s most valuable player award. The entire season counts and that includes his ugly exit from Houston, where he showed up late to training camp, was out of shape, yelled at teammates and threw a ball at one, and sabotaged the Rockets’ season to force his way out. All that matters.

But since getting to Brooklyn, Harden has played like an MVP. He deserves down-ballot consideration.

He looked ever bit the MVP in his return to Houston, putting up a triple-double of 29 points (on 10-of-15 shooting, 4-of-8 from three), 10 rebounds, 13 assists, with three steals, and leading the Nets to a comfortable 132-114 win over the Rockets (that’s 13 straight losses for Houston). That’s eight triple-doubles for Harden since the trade.

Harden was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers in his return, and it felt a little like a bad breakup in Houston — fans were both mad at him for leaving and were remembering all the good times they had with him. Feelings were mixed, and that’s natural.

The game was also a reminder of how far apart these two teams are — and why Harden felt he needed out to get to a contender. The Rockets tried — John Wall had36 points and Victor Oladipo added 33, both season highs for the players — and it just didn’t matter. The Rockets miss Christian Wood so very much.

Harden is not beating out LeBron/Embiid/Jokic to win MVP, but he may be the Net who ends up in the top five of the voting. (Kevin Durant has played well enough to be in that mix, but he has missed too many games now to win it.) Harden is back to being James Harden the perennial MVP candidate, which makes Brooklyn that much tougher to stop.

3) Donovan Mitchell latest victim of soft ejection, and he sounds off

J.J. Redick was ejected for rolling the ball back to a referee too firmly. Devin Booker got two technical fouls within five seconds from different referees, removing him from the middle of an intense playoff-style midseason game.

Wednesday night, Donovan Mitchell was tossed with :35 seconds left in what became Utah’s loss to Philadelphia. After the game, a frustrated Mitchell went looking for a fine from the NBA — and he’ll get one — ranting about the Jazz not getting calls other teams do.

It’s tough to go out there and see how we fight and compete and to have a game like that taken from us. I’m never, ever wanting to blame a ref, to blame an official. I could say we could have done more. But this is getting out of hand. There have been games like this that we’ve won. There have been games like this that we’ve lost.But this whole refereeing stuff and the way – We’re nice. We don’t complain. We don’t get frustrated. We fight through things. And the fact that we just continually get screwed in a way by this.

We won this game, in my personal opinion. But, like I said, I’m going to give them credit. They won. Whatever. Cool. But this has been a consistent thing. And the question is: “Can we do it? Can we sustain it? Are we for real number one?” Yeah the hell we are, and it’s getting f***** ridiculous … that this is what’s happening.

We have the whole second half of the season to go and get ready for, but I’m sick of it. To be honest, we all are. And I think this is something that just – it eats me. It eats at me, man. You all know what is. We all know what it is. But it’s really getting out of hand. It’s really, really, really getting out of hand. And the league needs to do something about this. Because I want to see the Last Two Minute Report. I want to see it. But it’s getting out of hand.

Most of the night was like that. Mitchell hooked Simmons, there was contact both ways, and the Jazz felt they got the short end. In reality, Simmons is a good defender and Mitchell was seeking contact he couldn’t always get late.

Mitchell’s two technicals came within 30 seconds, both for what the league will describe as “abusive language toward a game official.” Mitchell got his first technical (with :58 seconds left) protesting a foul Embiid drew Gobert (there was a lot of contact on that play, but Embiid was egging the referee on to give Mitchell the technical). The next Jazz possession Mitchell felt he was fouled and didn’t get the call, and he kept talking. That got him a second technical and ejection.

Rudy Gobert did his part to get a fine as well.

Out in Los Angeles, Montrezl Harrell got a technical for yelling “and-one” and vented about it (if yelling “and-one” becomes a technical it will happen on literally every drive all game long).

In the case of Utah, it has hit a rough patch of the season, having lost 3-of-4 on this road trip, and they were frustrated. When things are close, it’s natural to blame the officials, and that’s part of what is going on here.

That said, there have been a lot of quick ejections lately from referees — it’s an emotional game, the players need to be able to vent a little. Referees need not to take it personally (easier said than done when someone is cussing at you), not become emotional about it, and move on. Most of the time they do, but the referees seem to be pushing back on players because they feel disrespected, and in doing so, the officials are hurting the game.

There is not a conversation going on between players and referees. Instead, officials look like the teacher who gave out detention slips like candy in high school to control a classroom. It didn’t work then; it’s not working now.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: It was Dame Time again on Wednesday. Watch Damian Lillard hit the game-winning three, then draw a game-saving charge to help Portland seal a win over Golden State.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.