Three Things to Know: Embiid waves Durant, Nets off court; shows potential for 76ers


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Embiid waves Durant, Nets off court; shows potential for 76ers

Dear basketball gods: Can we get a playoff series between these two teams? Please? We need six or seven games of this.

Thursday night was payback for Philly. Two weeks ago, the Nets beat the 76ers 114-105 and after the game Kevin Durant waved the Sixers off the floor. Durant believed the 76ers had disrespected the Nets, and he told them to go home.

Thursday night, Joel Embiid returned the favor after scoring 34 to lead a 110-102 win over Brooklyn.

After the game, both Embiid and Durant said their trash talk came out of respect for how they push each other. It was all good competitive fun.

It’s the kind of fun we need to see in a playoff series.

A playoff series that the 76ers could make very interesting, depending on what happens in the next six weeks before the trade deadline.

It’s hard to project what the 76ers will look like after the Ben Simmons trade — and there will be a Ben Simmons trade before the deadline — because we don’t know who is coming to Philly. It could be someone to help shore up their rebounding issues and defensive concerns (areas Simmons was important to them). It could be a lot more offense. Maybe both.

Embiid is a question the Nets can’t answer directly — he is too big, too strong, too quick for their defenders inside.

If the play around Embiid is good enough, the 76ers can beat anyone. Thursday night they got that quality play, with Tyrese Maxey scoring 25, Seth Curry adding 17, and Matisse Thybulle making Durant work for his points. Add a quality player or players to that mix after the Simmons trade, and this 76ers team could be a threat.

The pecking order in the East right now has the Nets — getting Kyrie Irving back for road games starting soon — and Bucks at the top, with the Heat looming as a sleeper and the Bulls as a threat as well (especially if they make a move at the deadline and get a quality four). With a healthy Embiid, Philadelphia could vault into that mix with the right deadline move.

Embiid is good enough to lift the 76ers to contender status, and to wave Durant and the Nets off the court. Which is why Daryl Morey knows he can’t waste a year of prime Embiid playing the leverage game in the Simmons deal. A move is coming.

2) COVID latest: Nuggets/Warriors postponed, no fans in Toronto, Randle enters protocols

This latest COVID surge continues to disrupt this NBA season. The league isn’t hitting pause, it will push through, but this season has taken a punch to the gut.

Here’s the latest on the COVID front with the NBA:

• The Knicks Julius Randle enters protocols. When he exits, the Knicks need him to bring his disappeared 3-point shot with him.

• The NBA had to postpone its 11th game of the season, the Warriors visiting the Nuggets. Earlier on Thursday, the Nuggets announced that coach Mike Malone and three players — Jeff Green, Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji — entered the league’s health and safety protocols. Add in the Nuggets injured players — Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and P.J. Dozier are all out, plus Monte Morris, Aaron Gordon and Austin Rivers were all listed as questionable — and the Nuggets couldn’t dress eight healthy players.

• The NBA has become a game of “who is that?” and “who does he play for?” because of all the 10-day hardship contracts being signed. How many? That number was at 109 earlier on Thursday but kept climbing.

Philly’s Doc Rivers joined Denver’s Malone in protocols, making it nine NBA coaches in protocols.

About 36% of NBA referees also are in league protocols, which has led to G-League callups on that front as well.

• The Raptors will play home games without fans for the next three weeks.

• If you read all that and thought, “why doesn’t the league just pause for a week or two?” you should know two things. First, Hawks coach Nate McMillan agrees with you.

Second, it’s not going to happen. The NBA is going to push through. It has increased testing, shortened the time positive but asymptomatic players have to quarantine (matching CDC recommendations), is forcing teams to bring in temporary players when roster guys test positive, but hitting the pause button is not on the table.

3) Cavaliers near trade to acquire Rajon Rondo from Lakers

This trade benefits both teams but doesn’t really move the needle in the big picture.

After Ricky Rubio tore his ACL the Cavaliers went looking for depth at point guard (remember they also lost Collin Sexton for the season due to knee surgery). Rondo is the target.

Rondo is currently in COVID protocols and would not head to Cleveland until he was cleared. Rondo is not a regular part of the Lakers’ rotation — he played in just 18 games for the Lakers, averaging 3.1 points per game and shooting 32.4%, and the Lakers have been 10.1 points per 100 better when he is on the bench — but he could fill a role next to Darius Garland in Cleveland. At the least, he provides veteran depth.

What the Lakers get out of this trade is a cleared roster spot (technically something has to be traded back for Rondo, likely a heavily protected second-round pick). That open roster spot lets Los Angeles keep 10-day contract hardship player Stanley Johnson on the roster without taking a substantial luxury tax hit. This trade opens a roster spot, removes Rondo’s salary from the books, and lets the Lakers slot Johnson in that space on a minimum contract.

Highlight of the Night: Pitt football turnover dunk is awesome

It’s college bowl season, and that means we bet on watch teams we barely paid attention to all season. With all due respect to Pitt, they were that team for me, and I had no idea they did a turnover dunk after the Panther defense forces one.

That is awesome.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 119, Brooklyn 102
Milwaukee 136, Orlando 118
Washington 110, Cleveland 93
Golden State at Denver, postponed

Three things to watch in Game 7 between Miami Heat, Boston Celtics


After three games, the Boston Celtics looked done — not only did they get blown out in Game 3, they dropped the rope. They quit. This looked over. But Boston found their pride and won Game 4, then won Game 5 at home, and finally came the insane Derrick White Game and a Game 6 win to become only the third team ever to go down 0-3 and force a Game 7.

Miami was in control of this series, but some cold shooting nights — particularly from their stars — and a lot of turnovers opened the door for the Celtics. Miami and its vaunted culture, find itself in the exact place it was a year ago, having to win a Game 7 against these Celtics to advance to the Finals — if Jimmy Butler hit an open 3-pointer late a year ago the Heat would have advanced. Can they take that one more step now?

Game 7. The sweetest two words in sports, and we get one Monday night from the TD Garden.

Here are a couple of things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Butler/Adebayo or Tatum/Brown? Which stars show up?

The last time we saw Jayson Tatum in a Game 7 was just two weeks ago, when he dropped a record 51 points on the 76ers in that deciding game. A season ago in a Game 7 against these same Heat, Tatum scored 26 points and hit 4-of-7 from 3, while Jaylen Brown added 24 points.

This item really isn’t about them. While the Celtics’ stars have to have good games, it’s reasonable to expect them to.

This is all about Jimmy Butler, and to a lesser extent Bam Adebayo. For the first 43 minutes of Game 6 these two shot a combined 7-of-35 and were not good enough. Butler had 14 points and was a non-factor in Game 5. For the last three games he has looked tired, he’s lacked some of his explosion, and he has struggled with the Celtics length as they have packed the paint and taken away his easy shots inside for buckets.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said after the Game 6 loss. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

Butler turned things around in the final minutes of Game 6 — sparking a 15-4 run — mainly by attacking and drawing fouls, although he hit a 3-pointer in there as well. That Butler needs to show up Monday night in Boston, they need his points and they need his defense (he will draw Brown or Tatum as his assignment for much of the game).

If Miami is going to win, Butler has to be the best player on the floor. It’s that simple. If he struggles again, the rest will not matter.

2) Are the Celtics hitting their 3-pointers

Among the many ways the Heat have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away in Game 6 was this: Boston shot 7-of-35 from 3. The Celtics’ offense this season has been much more dependent on the 3-pointer, and the Heat did not take advantage of a bad 3-point shooting night from the Celtics.

Boston’s shooters — particularly role players such as Grant Williams and Derrick White — tend to be more comfortable 3-point shooters at home, and if this team gets rolling and hits 15 or more 3s and is shooting 40% or better on those, it’s lights out. Especially if they are breakMiami, even on a good Butler day, will have trouble keeping up.

It’s simplistic to say it’s a make-or-miss league, but when it comes to the Celtics shooting from beyond the arc it applies

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendation for Game 7

In the last 16 Game 7’s when the total moved at least five points lower than the previous Game 6 total, the Under is on a 14-2 winning streak (87.5%), which is in play here. The total for Game 6 opened at 213.5 and closed at 209.5. Game 7 opened at 206.5 and is down to 203.5, so the trend is in effect with a 10-point or 6.0 point-move depending on how you look at it.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new.

All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While one could argue that is early off-season posturing by the Mavericks, don’t bet on it. They want Irving back.

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). Dallas can pay him more than anyone, and beyond that is more willing to pay than most. There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.