Three Things to Know: Embiid with 7th straight 30+ point game, 76ers win 7th straight

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com 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) Joel Embiid with 7th straight 30+ point game, Sixers 7th straight win

Wilt Chamberlain did it in a 76ers uniform. So did Allen Iverson.

Joel Embiid has joined those Philadelphia legends by scoring 30+ points in seven straight games, and he has a 66% true shooting percentage in that stretch. Embiid scored 31 points, plus pitched in eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks leading Philadelphia to a comfortable 111-91 win against Houston.

(If you like good trivia, Embiid is the second player in NBA history to score exactly 31 points in four straight games, the other being Bob McAdoo with the Buffalo Braves in 1973).

With guards Tyrese Maxey (health and safety protocols) and Seth Curry (ankle) out, there was no pick-and-roll, there was only Embiid either on the block or facing up out by the arc and driving past (or, through) the Rockets’ centers. Embiid has counters to everything, whatever the Rockets threw at him — whatever any team throws at him — the big man knows how to counter it. Rockets’ center Daniel Theis tried, but Embiid was too much for him and had 17 points in the first quarter.

Most importantly for the 76ers, seven straight 30+ point games has meant seven consecutive wins, taking them from a team hanging around .500 to 23-16 and in fifth place in the East — and only a game out of the top four and hosting a playoff round. Philly is starting to look like a threat.

Embiid is not in the mid-season MVP discussion only because of the time he missed — sound familiar? — but if he keeps playing near this level the rest of the season, he will force his way into that conversation.

2) Hornets pick up back-to-back wins over Bucks

For two straight games, the Bucks have not been able to find a rhythm against the Hornets. Monday night Milwaukee turned the ball over on 20% of its possessions and barely got to the rim, setting for jumpers. It didn’t look like the Bucks.

The Hornets took advantage. LaMelo Ball scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half and knocked down a go-ahead floater with 15 seconds left. Charlotte went on to win 103-99, their second win over the Bucks in three days.

The other problem for the Bucks the past couple of games, they had no answer for Terry Rozier, who scored 27 points Monday night. The Hornets have won 6-of-8 and are playing their best ball of the season.

Ball, and Miles Bridges added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Hornets, who have won six of eight games and improved to 12-5 at home.

Khris Middleton had 27 points and 11 assists, while Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists. The Bucks are without starting guards Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen due to protocols, but this still has been a sloppy couple of games for them — and good ones for Charlotte.

3) Cade Cunningham scores career-high 29

Cade Cunningham is playing well of late. Very well.

You’re forgiven for not noticing or suffering through Detroit Pistons games. Cunningham started slow — he was injured in the preseason and missed a chunk of training camp, struggled to find his shot early, and missed time with COVID — but that is changing more and more each game.

Once he started to get his feet under him, the No. 1 pick has been asked to do more than other top rookies — such as Evan Mobley or Scottie Barnes, who are on teams filled with solid NBA players — and be the primary playmaker and scorer for a young and rebuilding roster.

But Cunningham is starting to fill that role well, and on Monday night had 29 points and eight assists against an excellent Jazz team.

Cunningham would not be in my top three for Rookie of the Year right now, but he would make an All-Rookie team, and if he keeps playing like this and coming on the second half of the season, he could rank a lot higher. However, what’s important is the No. 1 pick is starting to look more and more like the franchise cornerstone player that Detroit needs him to be.

Highlight of the Night: Kevin Porter Jr. ejected for hockey check

If this were hockey, that is a clean open-ice check by Kevin Porter Jr.: Used his shoulder, was in front of the player, kept his stick down (because he doesn’t have one).

But this is basketball, where hard checks are not allowed, and Kevin Porter Jr. was ejected for this hit on Charlie Brown.

Good on Brown for not taking it personally, but that clearly meets the criteria of 
”unnecessary and excessive contact” to earn a flagrant 2 and get tossed. There are ways to make that foul that are not lowering the shoulder.

Last night’s scores:

Charlotte 103, Milwaukee 99
Detroit 126, Utah 116
Boston 101, Indiana 98
New York 111, San Antonio 96
Philadelphia 111. Houston 91
Portland 114, Brooklyn 108

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.